Activist Facing Jail for Speaking Out

Some of you may recall the news from almost a year ago when four people ran out onto to the court with anti-war signs during a break in a game at the Dean Dome. All four were arrested, but two were later acquitted. One of the two who was found guilty is Andrew Pearson. Andrew has been an asset to the community since his days as a UNC student organizing around environmental amd social justice issues about ten years ago.

This case is an opportunity for our community to send a message about the preservation of the free speech that is absolutely fundamental to the functioning of our democratic system of government. Here are excerpts of a letter he just sent out to the local peace and justice community:

In such times of national emergency, when the voices of the people must be loud to ever make an impact, free speech must take more urgent forms. We had organized countless marches, teach-ins, lobby trips, letter writing campaigns, meetings and more, but national media was disproportionately voicing pro-war views. We, the "Tar Heel Four", saw it as our duty to find a venue which would give us even just a momentary stage before TV watching America, and in our publicly funded stadium before live TV cameras, we brought the anti-war message into millions of homes for 30 seconds. We made no significant disruption to the game, and UNC still won!

If you think that it is crazy for UNC to seek prosecution against their alum for this act of free speech, please support me in my trial.

1) Contribute to a legal defense fund. You can send checks to me, "Andrew Pearson", at 202 Carr St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516. Any money not used directly for the expenses of the trial will be donated to local anti-war groups for future organizing.

2) Contact UNC's Chancellor Moeser and the Daily Tar Heel with letters of support. Tell UNC to drop the charges! Email the Chancellor, and editor Elyse Ashburn, (300 words max) Please cc emails to me at

3) Take time out from your work or school day to attend my trial. I will let you know what the final date is.

4) Speak on my behalf! I am still looking for people who are willing to take the stand in my defense, who can speak on the importance of civil disobedience, the illegality of Bush's war, the importance of defending free speech in a time of such media monopoly, and my character.

Please let me know ASAP if you can help!

In essence, this appeal is not just about keeping me out of jail (which better be reason enough to help!), but in defending our rights to free speech. The Bill of Rights was only put into the Constitution because the North Carolina delegation, meeting in the old courthouse in Hillsborough, refused to ratify until it was included. Free Speech, particularly political speech, must often take unconventional forms when access and ownership to the media of communication are so favorable to a powerful minority.


Your dedicated activist and friend
Andrew Pearson
919 960 5217



Like I already said...good for them for protesting a righteous position.

But, I think a necessity defense for Pearson is even more tenuous then your CP&L example.

The connection between the the activities of our government in Iraq, and the activities occuring that day in the Dean Dome don't seem to implicate the exigencies inherent in the classic "trespass to save a child" scenerio. I think the connections are so lacking that they probably don't consitute, as you say, a credible framework in which to expound on the issue.

My understanding is that J. DeVine gave the defendants extraordinary leeway in presenting a defense in District Court. (J.DeVines willingness to do so, by the way, is one of the reasons I believe she is such a great Judge for this jurisdicition). But, I suspect the Superior Court Judge, even if it's Wade Barbour, won't have the patience demonstrated by J. DeVine -- in effect, the presiding judge will disallow this argument framework and disallow Necessity.

If it is in fact determined that running out onto a basketball court is illegal, then the best legal strategy may be to utilize the "necessity defense". This says that you had to break a lesser law in order to prevent someone breaking a more important law or doing greater damage. It would be like trespassing on to your neighbor's property to save a child from a bear attack.

There are precedents for this, a notable one being an abortion clinic protest. When myself and six others were on trial for trespassing in the CP&L building attempting to deliver a letter to the CEO concerning nuclear waste at Shearon Harris, we prepared a necessity defense but the judge would not allow it.

However, during our jury trial we still couched it as a sort of "necessity" argument and were able to state things that we wanted to.

At any rate, jurors in Orange County could conceivably agree that running on to a basketball court in order to help galvanize resistance to the high crime of the Iraq War is a worthy action. At the very least it provides a credible framework in which to expound on the issues.


Granted, Andrew's communication is not terribly focused or strategic. But, A) He did not interrupt the play of the game, B) He was in a public place, owned by the state - i.e. the people - of N.C., and C) the police should come up with a better argument than that they arrested him "for his own safety."

I haven't seen any cops come into bars to stop people from picking fights "for their own safety," even though they might be inciting a riot as Andrew was accused. To me that sounds a lot like blaming the victim for that fact that the people around him were violent jerks. I think it's a weird charge, and in any case I think Andrew is willing to go to prison for it.

The point (to me) is not whether the protester goes to jail, but whether s/he gets the message out and maybe also gets a moral victory (however that might be defined).

I have got to get back to work now!

Thanks Mark. Actually, if one wants a closer analogy--perhaps the draft protestors would be better? Gabriel Harris spent three years in prison protesting the Draft for Vietnam. I know Ruby prefers us to post links, so i'll post this: it is a link to the chronology of Joan Baez's life...she was just easier to find than Mr. Harris. Please note--she WENT TO PRISON.

Also--here is a link to Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience." It will take awhile to read.


And another thing:

Peason's letter says:

"In essence, this appeal is not just about keeping me out of jail (which better be reason enough to help!)"

Well, in fact it has nothing to do about keeping him out of jail. J. DeVine sentenced him to 24 hrs community service and $200 fine.

Unless Peason has a long record of convictions, he's not going to get jail time after a trial in Superior Court. Moreover, he has until his Superior Court trial date to ask for the case to be remanded. If he does, DeVine's sentence would be reinstated.

If it's jail he wants to avoid he can do that on his own -- for free.

Update in the Chapel Hill Herald:

UNC Police Lt. Archie Daniel testified in District Court that "protecting public safety" was a key motivation for detaining and citing the four protesters. "People could easily get excited about a stand on [war with Iraq]," he said in court. "It could get out of hand, and people could riot. Because of that we tried to handle it as gingerly as we could and tried to prevent anything further from happening."

Sound familiar? Ever heard of the Freedom Rides?

1961: “Bull” Connor had the 10 Freedom Riders arrested, “for their own safety” he claimed.

I don't think the freedom riders analogy holds up.

The buses had been ordered desegregated. Freedom Riders got on the bus. Mobs of Southerners whose conducted was condoned by the despicable Bull Conner attempted to use violence to keep the Riders from peacefully doing something they had a legal right to do.

In this situation there was a basketball game going on. 20000+ people were gathered together to watch the game. The activity of the demonstrators interfered with the entirely legal activity of watching and cheering at a basketball game. (Readers: Please don't have the knee-jerk response: "Hey, you think basketball is more important than the war?" That response is irrelevant and rediculous. It's axiomatic that your rights end where mine begin...whether you like it or not, people have the right to gather and cheer for a basketball team.)

I think it was a highly effective move on the part of the protesters to choose to disrupt the game. . . their message is important, and through continuing court actions, their message continues to be told. I wasn't at the game, but had I been I'm sure I would have enjoyed the demonstration. But despite the effectiveness of their strategy, they chose to violate laws. Plainly, you don't have the right to speak anywhere and everywhere you want to. They had to know that there was a very high probability that they would be arrested. They took the risk. Good for them. Now they need to start being smart about their situation. Be good protesters -- Stay on message! Stop whining! Use the 15 minutes of press time to educate people about your message. Or has the message been lost amidst the entirely predicatable mess they're in.

...the demonstration was about the war, right?


I agree. The conflict is clear to me as well.

One would think Pearson would welcome his day in court as another forum for his message. Surely he foresaw this as a possible outcome of his actions. If it was done without risk of arrest and trial and quite possibly, punishment, it wouldn't be civil disobedience ... instead it would just be a

It's silly to think that if you commit an act that is arguably against the law, that the party you offend won't pursue legal avenues of redress.

be a . . . protest

Doesn't NC vs Pearce apply here?


??????How about a link?


NC v. Pearce tells us that Pearson could receive a harsher sentence after his new trial.

He is not going to end up in jail for free speach, he will go to jail for doing something illegal and stupid. He could have been carrying pro-war signs and he would end up in the same place.

I was there at the game, and can tell you people where not amused by having a basketball game interupted by some idiots running around with signs on the floor. Stand in front of the Dean Dome with a sign or something.

At tonights game against Miami, some guy walked out on the floor to talk to someone he knew standing in the student end-zone. It appears he got kicked out of the game, if not arrested.

Security at public events is something people should take more seriously.

This case has NOTHING to do with freedom of speach. There is a time and place for freedom of speech.

I got moved from in front of Carrboro Town Hall gathering signatures on a petition during the farmers market once. I was told I had to move to the "free speech zone". If I did not move, they would "call the police". That was crazy limitation of free speech, but the basketball case should land this dude in jail.

Isn't the real vindictiveness not letting Scott O'Day get a conviction of his own, the poor dear?

As a political moderate who has lived in several academic communities, I have seen numerous attacks on free speech. I am always ready to come to the defense of the first amendment when the powers that be forget about it. However, in this case, the community should "send a message" about upholding the law.

This fellow argues that he had to engage in civil disobedience because his message was not being conveyed by mainstream media and that Amerians are not getting the anti-war story. However, it seems that every time someone provides me with information that has been "suppressed" by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy-dominated media, it turns out that I have already heard it (many times). I guess the VRWC is not doing a very good job of keeping us in the dark.

Just because people don't listen or care does not mean that they have not been exposed to the message. Maybe they have their heads in the sand, but that does not point to an attack on free speech.

I guess one of the things that bothered ME was his assertion that it was "crazy for UNC to seek prosecution against their alum." He also urges us to "tell UNC to drop the charges." To me, this seems in direct conflict with the whole concept of Civil Disobedience. If you'll recall, Thoreau was TICKED OFF when his tax was paid FOR him and he was freed.


In the interest of brevity I cut out part of Andrew's letter. Here's the intro I removed, which has some info about the case:

I wanted to let you know that I will face a jury trial shortly for my

protest against the war on Iraq last year, and face jail time and

fines for an act of free speech!

On February 15th, 2003, tens of millions of people around the world

took to the streets in protest of Bush's impending pre-emptive war on

Iraq. Three days prior, on February 12th, I participated in an act of

free speech, walking onto the Dean Dome basketball court at a UNC-

Virginia game while a change of possession had been called.

As soon as the whistle blew and play stopped, myself and 3 UNC

students went down the aisles, onto the court, and unfurled banners

that read "No War" and "World Says No War on Iraq." We were quickly

escorted off of the court by police, who had a strong and vigilant

presence because we had given the Chancellor advanced notice. While

many in the crowd booed us, many were heartened to see the debate on

the war carried into our public places. In bars, living rooms and

internet chatrooms that night there were countless conversations about

the war.

We were given a letter banning us from the Dean Dome for 2 years, a

punishment I do not contest. We were also cited for disorderly

conduct. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pressed

charges and we were brought to trial. In October before Judge

Patricia DeVine, charges against Kelly White and Scott O'Day were

dropped, while Liz Mason-Deese and myself were found guilty. I

decided to appeal the case, which means I will have my

constitutionally protected right to a jury trial. After submitting

the notice of appeal, a judge gave me a suspended sentence of 20 days

jail time. If found guilty by the jury, I may be given a jail

sentence for what I believe was simply an act of free speech.

Why Protest At A Basketball Game?

Last year, as Bush's administration was putting forth lie after lie

about the need to make war on Iraq, the national media, particularly

network TV, where so many Americans get their news and opinion, was

dominated by pro-war viewpoints. Protests were downplayed or ignored,

important information about the lack of WMDs or Iraqi ties to Al-Qaeda

were silenced, and now our country is bogged down in a dangerous,

costly, and unnecessary war and occupation. In addition, free speech

has been increasingly curtailed by the chilling effect of the Patriot

Act, police abuse and surveillance of peaceful protesters and

organizations, and intimidation, threats and firings of teachers,

journalists, and others for speaking out against the war.


I agree with you. I just didn't want anyone to be confused between 1)refusing to face the consequenses and 2)exercising your constitutional rights.

I contend that should Pearson be convicted again, he won't have a choice about suffering the consequences. But I see no reason why he should have to take the consequences offered by J.Devine without fully exploring all his options. He and his compatriots were trying to make a statement...their objectives would be advanced further through a jury trial and the consequent press coverage which is sure to follow it.

I'm not taking a position on whether I think his methods (the Dean Dome Demonstration) are appropriate or not, but I don't think there is anything wrong with the choices they've made since being arrested.

I still contend that unless you are willing to SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES such acts CANNOT be called "Civil Disobedience." Has anyone READ Throeau recently?


I meant "Thoreau", obviously.

I don't know why UNC is insisting on prosecuting this--BUT--isn't one of the points of Civil Disobedience being willing to do the time if convicted of a crime? Having "the system" put on trial? Or am I mis-remembering my history?



[ DTH Article from October 31st 2003 ]

Before adjourning, DeVine sentenced Mason-Deese and Pearson to 24 hours of community service, to be completed by Dec. 15.

The two said they will consider appealing the decision and that they stand behind their actions.


Did they refuse to do their community service?

I haven't been too diligent in keeping up with this, but It seems as if they've appealed J.Devine's decision. An appeal of a District Court decision is a trial in Superior Court de novo. At such a trial the decision of the District Court is not binding. It's not a matter of refusing to do community service, rather it's the exercise of the right of the defendants to have a jury of their peers determine their guilt. The presumption of innoncence returns. (District Courts don't have a juries, decisions come straight from the bench.) If they are convicted in Superior Court the sentence could still involve community service or other things depending on each of the defendant's criminal history.

If they had just refused to do community service they would have been brought back in front of J.Devine for violating the conditions of their probation. She would then enhance the punishment accordingly.

If you really want to stop the war and save the planet do the following:

Stop driving your car and sell it today!

Never get in a car or motor vehicle again!

Get off the power grid, NOW!

Your electricity is generated by fossil fuels or by nuclear power! TURN IT OFF, NOW!

Don't use your telephone! It is made from plastics and uses electricity powered by FOSSIL FUELS!

DON'T USE YOUR COMPUTER! It uses electricity and is made from PLASTICS!

Don't wear clothes made with man-made fibers!



DON'T DRINK OR BATHE OR USE WATER FROM THE TAP!!!! This water is treated with chemicals and the water pressure in the pipes is caused by generators powered by ELECTRICITY!








All this philosophizing is all very well and good but if we start excusing people from their obligation to honor the social contract (the laws, eg, against trespassing, duly passed by our duly elected legislature) or accept the duly enacted consequences of their disobedience, then why don't I get to chose which laws I'll disobey and duck the consequences when I'm caught?

And is that something other than anarchy? Which some of us may survive, but many of you wouldn't.

I've been following the legal & philosphical perspectives offered here and basically I'm still glad they did it and urge them to kick up as much sand about it as they can. First, anyone looking for justice in a courtroom may as well look for innocence in a whorehouse so there's no big reason to feel compelled to accept the charges and take the consequences. I think the golden rule of justice is that we should not be expected to have more respect for the judicial system than that system has for us.

Secondly, it's a great morale booster for other folks to know that others are puting effort into resisting an illegal war wrapped in a fog of propaganda. That alone makes it worth it.Especially since so many people secretly have had misgivings but have not felt comfortable expressing them.

Thirdly, I'm a sports fan and I wouldn't want anybody to blow up the court or light the field on fire and screw up a good game. However, a few moments of creative, thoughtful disruption ain't such a big deal and it's probably good for most sports fans to at least have some hibernating little-used brain matter get a little charge now and again.


QUESTION: "...But most of the basketball court streakers in the 1970's that were caught didn't get prosecuted by UNC. Isn't it morally a bit problematic to prosecute one type of trespass/disorderly conduct while actively prosecuting another? Just asking."

ANSWER: These people where providing free entertainment by streaking at a BBall game. I put it in the same category as the Majorette's, not peaceniks.

Yes, in some cases it would be both stupid and irresponsible to simply submit to the punishment states wish to meet out. I'm not sure this young man's sentence falls under that statement, but am willing to accept that YOU feel it does.

Thoreau may not have been the last word in Civil Disobedience, but some might argue that he was the first.

I will now bow out of this discussion, as I have said everything at least twice, and don't see how I can add to the discussion in a meaningful way.


Melanie See

I had this great crim pro prof in law school. He was brilliant, despite his history of having once been a US Attorney.

Maybe you're familliar with his work.

I was at the original trial for the two defendants. The law clearly states that disorderly conduct is constituted by ignoring warnings from the police to stop engaging in behavior. In fact, Liz and Andrew's action was so brief that there was no time to deliver a warning. They had already moved off the court by the time they were arrested. This was hardly some terrible, prolonged disruption of the sacred basketball game.

The judge originally presiding said her decision was partly based on the fact that someone did physically attack Andrew. This was a fairly shocking statement in a US courtroom.

I have attended one academic institution that was positively vicious in going after protesters (Columbia U.). I have attended another that was far more lenient (Binghamton U. (of the State University of New York)). The policies of the latter did absolutely nothing to detract from its academic credibility.

Compounding the offensiveness of UNC going after the activists on legal grounds, another activist who was not arrested was investigated by the university because he sent them a letter explaining that an action would occur at the game (this according to testimony by university employees at the trial). In other words, someone who had not broken the law was investigated as a 'threat' to the university, someone whose activism was the 'only thing' the university regarded as not in keeping with an otherwise excellent record of academic and civic participation (the idea that he was a 'threat' and that left-wing activism contradicts academic excellence were both ideas explained at the trial by, again, university employees).

I'm saddened that a public university is so hostile to free speech.

The US has murdered about 7,000 Iraqis, and over 400 US troops (none related to the families of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Powell, etc) have died as a result. We in the US are likely to live the consequences of occupying a country for decades (look at Israel or Russia these days). Let's not obscure who are the real criminals here, and who is going to get off scott free.

Melanie, Thoreau is not the last word in civil disobedience. It many instances it would be both stupid and irresponsible to simply submit to the punishment states wish to meet out.

This thread has been GREAT. Informative, useful, and respectful input from a range of perspectives.

I'm mailing a check to Andrew today! $0.02

A little military would help this wimp.

Hey Mark,

Where did you learn all this stuff about selective and vindictive prosecution, anyway?



Just as an aside, I have a hard time correlating streaking in the 70's and protesting today. Our society changes, and the "climate" for tolerating such disruptions in the 70's was much different than today. Check out to learn more about how society changes as generations change.

I do share Mark's pet-peeve. I think a better correlation would be someone streaking across the basketball court today or protesting today. I suspect that streaking today is much less tolerated than it was in the 70's.

I hope you aren't including ME in the "throw the kid to the wolves" crowd.

I'm not arguing that the message wan't worth getting out. I'm not arguing that the Universtity is doing the sane sensible thing in prosecuting these kids. I DO object to the "trying to get out of it" aspect of that young man's letter. Perhaps it's because I've known people who performed TRUE civil disobedience. There was a great couple at our church--former UCC Missionaries, who did jail-time for civil rights protests, and who, until their deaths, refused to pay that portion of their Federal Income taxes that went to support the military. (They were pacifists.)The Feds used to come take it out of their account--along with whatever fines were imposed. The McNairs were people to be admired. I performed my own civil disobedience in college--could have gotten me bounced from school. It didn't, but I was willing to take the chance. Pardon me for saying it, but this young man seems upset that the big, bad University is after him.

Maybe I'm just becoming curmudgeonly in my old age, but part of the problem with the world today is that (many) people seem UNWILLING to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for their actions.

Rant over.


Sure, arbitrary and or vindictive enforcement and prosecution can be a problem and calls into question the efficacy of the having the rule on the books to begin with. I'd want references to incidents when UNC failed to prosecute that weren't so remote in time though.

Rickie brings this up because he knows how much I hate having laws on the books that we either know we're not going to be able to enforce or we know we won't be able to enforce evenhandedly. Certainly one of my pet-peeves. See Chapel Hill Nighttime Panhandling Ban and Residential Occupancy Restrictions.

Unlike other critics who've posted to this thread -- I don't want to feed Andrew and his friends to the Iraq wolves. I have a great deal of respect for people willing to make personal sacrifices for what they believe in.

I've been in situations where civil disobedience was contemplated. The first point made to the group is -- we are likely to be arrested and there could be legal consequences...the system gives the people with whom we're interfering a legal remedy for the interference we are about to impose on them.

In fact, I've even made the decision then to engage in the activity. I'm fortunate not have been arrested, even when it was likely that I was going to be. Never have I been with a group contemplating civil disobedience when we relied on the the group we were interfering with to "be nice and ignore us."

OK, so I'm no legal expert. But most of the basketball court streakers in the 1970's that were caught didn't get prosecuted by UNC. Isn't it morally a bit problematic to prosecute one type of trespass/disorderly conduct while actively prosecuting another? Just asking.


The actions of these idiots did ZERO to stop the war in Iraq and had ZERO chance of doing so.

People do not galvanize over issues because some kids made a point during a game.

The entire Dean Dome errupted in BOOO BOOO BOOO. They hurt the cause they are trying to help, except in the eyes of people with extream views.


Let's say you make $10 per hour. Your time is worth 16.6 cents per minute. Your free time is worth more, because you have less of it.

These kids ripped off two minutes of time from over 20,000 people at the game, and hundreds of thousands watching or listening on TV and radio. It WAS an interuption of a game. It was not done during half time, or a commercial break.

People are not entitled to ripping off tens of thousands of dollars worth of peoples time. Time = money.

If you want to make a point, get a permit, and go stand in front of the Post Office with the old biddy's in funky hats.

Mark K nails this one; this was exactly the right sentence, and there's no way this is going to lead to Jail time (heck, not even if it's Haley Barbour).Given that there would be no risk of jail at all if St Sebastian hadn't appealed from his slap on the wrist the the fund raising letter shown was pretty misleading

I had thought that the case against jail time would have been strong enough to bring Pearce into play, but now I think I was wrong (I'm really fuzzy on what it does and doesn't cover now).

These kids really did help things in Iraq; in a brilliant piece of agent provacateurisme they helped rally Chapel Hill to support Iraqi Freedom. They should get medals.



They could always ask to be tried under the then extant Iraqi law and procedure


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