Alabama NAACP President, 13 Others Guilty Of Trespassing
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A judge convicted state NAACP President Thomas Reed and 13 black lawmakers Tuesday on misdemeanor trespassing charges in their bid to remove the Confederate battle flag flying over Alabama’s Capitol.
Montgomery County District Judge Craig Miller fined each of the 14 defendants $100 plus court costs. The maximum each could have received was three months in jail and a $500 fine.
Reed, who led the Feb. 2 protest and later last year was convicted in an unrelated case of extortion, said he was surprised by Miller’s verdict in the non-jury trial.
″I knew we did not violate any state law. In fact I dissuaded the people who were with me from breaking state laws. I pleaded with them not to. We followed every command that was given us,″ Reed said in a telephone interview from his Tuskegee home.
Reed would not comment on the legal aspects of the case, but an appeal is expected to be filed in circuit court, where the group could request a jury trial.
″I will talk with my lawyers at the appropriate time about it. I’m going to take direction from our lawyers,″ he said.
More than 11 months ago Reed and the others marched to Alabama’s Capitol and tried to climb a chain-link fence surrounding it in a symbolic effort to remove the flag from the Capitol dome. They never got into the Capitol grounds, closed off during restoration work, and were arrested when each put a hand on the fence. The flag continues to fly on a staff atop the dome, third in line below the American and state flags.
Miller agreed with state attorneys who argued that the mere act act of Reed and the others curling their fingers through the fence was enough to constitute trespassing.
Reed said if that was enough to be found guilty of trespassing, ″You’d probably have to go back and arrest thousands of people, because I have seen many people″ touching the fence.
Earlier Tuesday, a copy of Gov. Guy Hunt’s sworn testimony in the Confederate flag case was made public. In it, Hunt, a Republican, said he believes he has the authority to remove the Rebel banner from the Capitol but feels it is better for the state that it not be taken down.
On several previous occasions, Hunt has said he would not take down the Rebel banner without instructions to do so from the Legislature.
Hunt has said the flag is a historic relic that is properly displayed at the Capitol. Reed has described it as a symbol of bigotry and oppression against blacks.
The Capitol protest followed meetings between Hunt and Reed in which attempts at compromise failed.
Months after the protest, Reed was convicted in a federal extortion case and automatically was expelled from his seat in the Alabama House. Reed, sentenced to four years in prison, has blamed his federal prosecution on his attempts to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol.
He remains state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and is free pending appeal.
The NAACP has sued in federal court to try to get the flag taken down. Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Varner refused to dismiss the federal court lawsuit. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for next month.