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Gregory Koger’s three and a half year long saga with the Cook County courts came to an end today as police whisked him away to begin serving the remainder of a 300 day sentence. Koger’s conviction emerged from a 2009 incident where he attempted to video an anti-censorhsip talk by Sunsara Taylor on the premises of Chicago’s Ethical Humanist Society. Instead of capturing a video, Koger ended up face down on the floor of the building while police handcuffed him, took him into custody, and ultimately charged him with three misdemeanors―trespassing, resisting arrest, and simple battery―despite the absence of any evidence that he was ever asked to leave the premises.
From the outset Koger maintained his innocence but the justice system did not concur. They insisted on pressing the charges, with Koger and his lawyer Jed Stone appealing the conviction each step of the way.
The charismatic Koger, who served thirteen years in Illinois prisons beginning at age 16, has garnered a considerable base of support, including a group dedicated to his defense: The Ad Hoc Committee for Reason. His supporters believe that his prosecution is politically motivated. Mike Holman, Director of the Prisoners’ Revolutionary Literature Fund, an organization which sends publications with a political message to incarcerated people, argued that from a legal point the case was “travesty after travesty,” with rules about due process violated “repeatedly.”
Holman and Koger’s lawyer both believed that Judge Marguerite Quinn’s actions today in sentencing Koger raised some serious questions. First, she brought out a copy of dismissal of an appeal by Koger. Quinn claimed to have issued the dismissal on April 15th. However, both Koger and Stone denied ever having seen the dismissal document. According to regulations, Koger would have had 30 days to appeal the dismissal so his deadline to respond had long passed.
Stone noted a further irregularity in the Judge’s actions. When she got around to sentencing, she stated that Koger had credit for 14 days previously served. Both Koger and his lawyer argued that he had also served an additional 60 days after before winning an appeal bond and being released from jail. As Stone later stated, “In my 38 years as an attorney I have never seen anything like the blatant, sloppy and disingenuous actions of the Court today.” Stone assured supporters that time served would be would be straightened out.
Jay Becker, who joined a couple dozen people in a Free Gregory Koger demonstration in front of the jail after the sentencing, painted a portrait of Koger as a man who came out of prison “with an incredible heart for the people of the world.” She maintained that Koger, who spent more than six years of his thirteen years of incarceration in isolation cells, was “not broken by their system of torture even at a young age.” Becker first met Koger at a pro-abortion rights demonstration but stressed that he was active in a range of social justice issues from freedom for the prisoners in Guantanamo, to opposition to the Iraq war, to school closures in Chicago.
Holman painted a similar picture of Koger. He was with Gregory Koger for much of the time during his last few days of freedom. Choking with emotion, Holman told the story of how immediately after the announcement of the George Zimmerman verdict the two of them headed for downtown Chicago to mount a show of protest. He described how Koger galvanized a range of people into action, including a wedding party of people in tuxedos and gold lamme dresses who had just emerged from a hotel. He said that Greg’s energy inspired the celebrants into adding “Justice for Trayvon” stickers to their formal attire.
Support for Koger came from beyond the circle of supporters who rallied at the jail. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan sent a message of solidarity, saying the she supported him “100%” and denouncing what she called “this further travesty of justice.” In her message Sunsara Taylor expressed her admiration for Koger, calling him an “inspiration not only to myself but to many, many others inside this nation’s prisons and outside.”
For his part, Koger remained determined to continue his political activism. In a written statement circulated before the hearing, Koger reiterated his oft-stated beliefs in the need for a revolutionary change in the U.S.:
I firmly believe another world is possible-a world drastically different than the current oppressive and exploitative system of private appropriation of the vast wealth produced by billions of people globally. This completely outmoded and unnecessary system is enforced by brutal police terror and a court and prison system unparalleled in the history of human society domestically, and by bloody imperialist military force abroad.
Koger had especially poignant words in regard to hunger strike by prisoners in California which is taking place at the moment. He vowed to join them in their action, promising to “spend every day that I’m held captive working with other prisoners to take up the call for the National Prison Hunger Strike and to step forward as part of the powerful force for revolution that we have the tremendous potential to become.”
By James Kilgore