October issue of the Free Keene Press

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Keene, the Peaceful Civil-Disobedience Apex

James B Schlessinger Jr.
October 5th, 2009

Words on paper are not stopping activists and locals from living like free people in Keene, New Hampshire.  Whether it is marijuana consumption on the Commons or a young woman going topless on Main Street, Keene has become the place to challenge unjust, immoral, and simply foolish laws.  This has naturally rankled many state and local civil servants.  The Keene City Council voted against sending a resolution to the state house begging for marijuana decriminalization legislation–instead individuals on the council were encouraged to send a personal message.  The Keene Police Department has shown both professionalism in its dealings with the 420 events and violence though Police Prosecutor Sergeant Eliezer Rivera.

April 13, 2009, was the day that David Ridley, of Grafton, was to be arraigned for videotaping in the second-floor lobby of the Keene City Hall.  Sam Dodson was arrested on that date, while videotaping there; his charges changed several times over the following months.

Six individuals who were concerned for the well-being of their friend when they heard Sam screaming in an adjacent room were issued summons or arrested for not vacating the scene of the abuse.  The trials for five of these six, all from Keene at the time of the incident, have concluded, and the results are as follows:  Tim Danforth – charges dropped; Richard Onley – charges dropped; Nick Ryder – charges dropped following a trial; Patrick Shields – found guilty of resisting arrest, sentence suspended; David Krouse – found guilty of disorderly conduct, fined $250, mitigated with 6 days in the Cheshire County House of Correction.

Kurt Hoffman was scheduled to have two trials on Friday, October 2, one for his arrest in connection with the April 13 episode, and another for an unrelated incident where he was cited for a stop sign violation and disobeying a police officer.  Mr. Hoffman seems to challenge the root of the problem with the state–what he views as the lack of legitimacy and authority in controlling individual’s lives.  Judge Edward Burke requires a certain level of pageantry in the courtroom, and found Kurt guilty of contempt of court before the trials had even started.  Mr. Burke sentenced Mr. Hoffman to 180 days in jail, at $80 a day this is going to cost taxpayers $14,400.   Kurt decided that he did not want to cooperate with his own caging, and assumed a passive position on the floor.

Police Prosecutor Eliezer Rivera moved in and executed the arrest and then tried to clear all the non-state employees out of the room.  Aubern Goodwin was able to stay with Kurt for a short while when he was placed into a holding area.  She reportedly witnessed Mr. Rivera violently attack the handcuffed Mr. Hoffman.  A call was put out to the Keene Fire/EMS for an ambulance as the attack injured Kurt’s neck.  The EMS and sheriffs arrived and started ordering cameras turned off and areas cleared of people, all while spouting irrelevant HIPAA regulations in a blatant attempt to assert authority.   One of the EMS workers, Captain Ronald Leslie, even stole a camera, directly snatching it out of a videographer’s hand.

Sam Dodson’s trial concluded more than thirty days ago, and Judge Burke has yet to provide a ruling.  Having watched the video of the incident that was on Sam’s camera and read a transcript, one item to note is the seemingly callous nature of arresting officer Eliezer Rivera.   As Mr. Dodson cried out in pain, Rivera was heard laughing, saying, “Louder, louder!”  Taking that into consideration with the latest attack made against Kurt Hoffman, it appears that Sergeant Rivera may be a liability for the Keene Police Department and the taxpayers of Keene.

On August 23, 2009, 18-year-old Cassidy Nicosia of Manchester decided to walk around Keene topless just as her male friends were doing.  This caught the ire of the Keene Police Department, who made it a point to stop and harass her.   Not knowing how to proceed, the police resorted to the default option: violence.  They arrested Cassidy and charged her with indecent exposure and lewdness, only to turn around two weeks later and drop the charges, admitting that what she did is not illegal.

Rich Paul and Noah Wood of Keene decided to enjoy a marijuana cigarette at Central Square every day at 4:20 PM–a time significant to the marijuana-smoking culture.  The first day, it was just the two of them, but over the next couple of days, more and more friends showed up to enjoy the toke time.  The first day I went, about thirteen people were in attendance and the occasion was still private.

On September 23, a reporter from the Union Leader was in the area, investigated the gathering, and published an article about the event that appeared the next day, triggering an open call for marijuana smokers to meet up with those already participating daily.

The turnout for the September 25 event was between 80 and 100 individuals, with the Keene police standing by doing nothing more than talking with those who walked up to them.  The result was a resounding success for the liberty movement, and sent a clear signal.

The marijuana rally on the 26th was the largest to date, and rumors that police were planning to make arrests were confirmed when Rich Paul was taken into custody.  The arrest caused quite a stir, and an impassioned throng marched to the police station.  Once they arrived, a group moved to a restricted area and set up a circle in which more marijuana was smoked.  Police Lieutenant Shane C. Maxfield came out and spoke at length with the press and activists.  Mr. Paul was released on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond, with a court date of November 2.

The following day Evan of Keene was arrested when police suspected him of smoking marijuana.  It was in fact a chocolate mint cigarette.  Evan was released shortly after arriving at the police station and met an even larger crowd en route to the police station.  The crowd decided to push the envelope even further by going into the police lobby and lighting up a joint.  I wasn’t able to get a hold of the actual cigarette, but the scent in the air was clearly that of marijuana.  Since then, Keene police have indicated they will not be harassing smokers.

Due to extensive media coverage, people in the rest of the state, and quite possibly the nation, are looking to Keene for a fresh approach toward finally repealing antiquated, unconstitutional, and socially destructive laws prohibiting peaceable behavior.

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