Fighting for Climate Justice, in the Streets and in the Court
by Melinda Tuhus, PAR reader and environmental activist
I was one of 15 elders arrested back in June for sitting in rocking chairs in the street for about a half-hour in front of JP Morgan Chase’s credit card headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware. It’s an impressive building, with an impressive sculpture of an eagle with outstretched wings flying from a tall pedestal – a perfect spot for two of us to unfurl a big banner calling on President Joe Biden and Chase Bank to do the right thing and stop investing in fossil fuel projects. Chase is by far the biggest investor in such planet- and people-killing practices.
In our trial for disorderly conduct that took place on November 12 – the last scheduled day of the COP 26 global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland – Judge Kerry Taylor allowed the 11 pro se defendants (acting without a lawyer) to submit reports about the climate crisis and the role of banks in funding it.
We pursued a “choice of evils” strategy, which under Dela-ware law allows someone to break the law to prevent a greater “imminent” harm. The prosecutor, who was the arresting officer, kept asking defendants who took the witness stand how their blocking the road prevented “imminent” harm that would justify the inconvenience to motorists who were delayed for a short time. Defendants testified to the drastic “imminent” harms already occurring due to climate change, like the fact that on the day of the protest, temperatures reached 108 degrees in the Northwest, part of a multi-day heatwave that killed at least 600 humans and a billion sea creatures.
Getting this documentation into the record was historic, as judges almost never allow a choice of evils defense – also known as a necessity defense. It was part of our carefully crafted four-prong strategy: presenting the science; present-ing an expert witness who talked about the health impacts of the climate crisis; presenting documentation about the role of banks and Chase Bank in particular in funding the crisis; and presenting another expert witness who testified about the success of taking nonviolent direct action in winning climate concessions from a different bank.
After all that, Judge Taylor found us guilty.
I am more committed than ever to having a regular presence outside the Chase Bank branch in downtown New Haven in the month of December to continue putting pressure on the bank to stop funding fossil fuel projects, as part of a national campaign. Please contact me at [email protected] Put CHASE in CAPS in the subject line if you would like to help.
For the full story in the New Haven Independent: www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/why_we_rocked_for_climate_justice