I spent this past weekend at the 11th annual Earthdance celebration, a global festival for peace held in northern California, uniting with over 250 locations in 50 countries, providing a wide variety of live music, workshops, speakers, inspiration and a worldwide sense of community. On Saturday, I was among a large group of men and women participating in the International Elders Forum. Each one had six minutes to share their wisdom with an overflowing crowd in the huge Electronica Dome. A native American, David of the Blackfoot tribe, would play the flute after five minutes of talk as a signal that there was one minute left.
When my turn came, I began, "Whatever wisdom I have to share is in the form of comic relief, but just remember, if you don't laugh you're only helping the terrorists." After seven minutes, I still didn't hear any notes from the flute, so I decided to pass the microphone on to the next person.
On Sunday afternoon, David told me that he had been laughing so hard he simply couldn't play his flute. He tried again and again, yet the best he could do was spit into it. Of course, this was gratifying feedback to a stand-up satirist, but over lunch our conversation became deadly serious.
Last November, he wanted to sell a piece of equipment, and a man who saw the ad invited him to his apartment. There, David was told to help himself to a soda from the refrigerator, which he did. When he turned around, four guys -- biker/skinhead/Aryan-Nation types -- burst through the door and attacked him with 2-1/2 inch metal pipes, first striking him on the forehead, then beating and kicking him while calling him a "dog" and a "prairie nigger."
He tried unsuccessfully to defend himself and finally dove out the first-floor window, landing in a carport. He pounded on somebody's door -- yelling "9-1-1!" -- and collapsed in a puddle of blood. He regained consciousness in a hospital where he got 40 stitches for a cracked cranium and a head brace for his broken neck. His shoulder and hand were also injured. He was rescued by a friend and stayed at her home to heal. He could no longer do physical work, but she has since helped him open a small business.
Two weeks after the incident (the night before Thanksgiving), police arrested David for missing a court date on a traffic violation. He had missed the date because he was unconscious in the hospital. At the Sonoma County jail, the guards kicked him, removed his head brace, refused him all medical attation, placed him in solitary confinement, forced him to sleep on a concrete bed without a mattress, and did not allow him to shower for six days. They eventually brought him to court, chained to a wheelchair.
After he was released on probation, the district attorney demanded that David testify against the skinheads. Knowing the nature of the Aryan gang, he immediately expressed concerns about his safety, regardless of what his testimony might be. A couple of months later, the DA agreed to place him in a witness protection program. It turned out to be at the Pink Flamingo, a hotel in Santa Rosa, the same city in which he was attacked.
On the third day, he walked out of the hotel and saw a bunch of bikers and skinheads outside. Not knowing they were there for a tattoo convention, he panicked and smoked a cigarette in his no-smoking room. For that offense, he was taken out of the witness protection program and left homeless, afraid to put anyone he knew in danger. The DA made it very clear to him that "We have ways to make you testify."
The day before the trial, David was arrested again, on the way to the Indian Health Center, for driving with a suspended license. Again, he was denied medical attention, his head brace was removed, and he was thrown into solitary confinement. A week later, he was again brought into court chained to a wheelchair -- unbathed and looking like a wild Indian -- and threatened with three years in jail. The DA was in the courtroom at his sentencing, pow-wowing directly with the judge.
Immediately before the sentencing, David's friend stood up and asked to speak out on his behalf, since his court-appointed lawyer had done so little to defend him. With the bailiff bearing down on her and contempt of court looming, the judge surprisingly agreed to let her talk. She stated how jailing David was cruel and unusual punishment, because he would have to be placed in solitary confinement throughout his incarceration in order to avoid any contact with Aryan gang members, due to his status as a hate-crime victim.
Moreover, he was in violation of driving with a suspended license only because he couldn't afford to pay the fines; his injuries prevented him from being able to work in his chosen field to earn the money to pay those fines. Was driving with a suspended license actually worth three years of anyone's life, or was there another agenda lurking in the courtroom that needed such leverage to pressure David into testifying against the assailants? Was it justice to, in effect, condemn him for the heinous crime of poverty?
The judge weighed the case and the next day released David on probation, warning him not to drive. Almost a year later, the DA is still hounding David by phone and subpoena, putting his life in danger by coercing him to testify. And where was Victims Assistance during all this horror? A Victim Witness Advocate told David, "I can't help you. You're on probation. Our hands are tied."
Since David was a victim, he does not have the right to an attorney. He was due to appear in court on September 18, but the case has been postponed for a month. He plans to say in court that he will not testify because, "If concern for my safety is not addressed, I could die." He expects to be charged with contempt and, once again, to be put in solitary confinement.
Whatever you can do to help extricate him from this profane injustice would be most appreciated. His tormenters, DA Anne Masterson and her investigator Denise Urton, can be reached at (707) 565-2311. You can contact David at [email protected]. I'm grateful to be in a position to communicate the details of this nightmare, none of which I would have known had David been able to play his flute after five minutes of laughing.