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Denver Homeless Out Loudest Ray Lyall


Here’s a better picture of Denver Homeless Out Loud activist Ray Lyall and colleague, with the usual Denver protest entourage. Ray Lyall was found guilty of trespass last week, like his cohort DJ Razee before him. The two were among nine DHOL members arrested defending Tiny Houses on October 25, ten if you include a follow-up action, but Ray and DJ are the only cases to come to trial. Four more are scheduled soon: April 20, May 9 & 10, and June 1.

You might well ask, what of the remaining four? They PLED GUILTY.

It is customary not to condemn another’s self-preservation needs, but let’s be honest, taking the plea deal does hurt everybody. Pleading guilty implicates your co-defendants, validates the police probable cause, and sacrifices the opportunity for which arrest and detainment were the ante.

Ray Lyall took his case to trial, compelled five police officers and a Denver Housing Authority to take the stand, opportuned an eloquent lawyer to speak about homelessness and the bigger picture, tied up a municipal courtroom profit center for two days, and was sentenced to peanuts: one year probation plus community service. Probation is essentially what’s been on offer for plea deals, so Ray risked only being found not guilty.

DJ’s sentence admittedly was not peanuts, it included jail time. The judge declared she would rather have imposed probation, but DJ knew probation would hinder his options as a street activist. DJ stipulated jail so that afterward he’d be free to protest without the spector of a deferred sentence weighing upon him.

Plea deals have shaped a lamentable pattern for Denver activists. Owing to inadequate legal representation or financial hardship, many political arrestees have been tempted by offers of deferred prosecution or deferred sentencing which have necessitated their abstention from further protest. Some who have continued to participate in demonstrations have been in the awkward position of encouraging others to do what they could no longer risk, perpetuating the cycle of arrests and plea deal emasculation.

The Denver activist community has some serial plea dealers, who always take pleas and ensnare newbies with them every cycle. As a result, fresh activists become burned out and regular police oppression is emboldened.

The irony of course is that the vast majority of Denver protest arrests have been violations of civil liberties. It will only stop when the police are challenged and sued. Obstruction, interference, failure to obey, resisting, trespass, disturbing the peace etc, are the habitual pretexts which Denver police have been using to curb street protest. Even the felony charge of assault of a police officer has been succesfully used to scare activists into taking pleas. Usually such “assaults” were simply collisions or confrontations where police officers were the actual assailants.

Not everyone is in a position to fight their charges to the bitter end, but asserting the illegitimacy of political arrests is critical to bringing Denver police to heel.

If you are going to plead guilty because you don’t think you have the right to march in the street or to ignore unconstitutional orders or to defy unjust laws, DON’T DO IT. Spare the rest of us the bad example of capitulating to wrongful authority.

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