Photo: Ryan SuffernDearest readers,
Yesterday marked the long-awaited sentencing of Tim DeChristopher, climate-activist-turned-folk-hero, who bid on land being made available for oil and gas drilling in a questionable and contested auction by the Bureau of Land Management at the end of the Bush administration in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Tim to two years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. The judge did not allow Tim to self-report to jail, instead ordering a marshall to escort him in handcuffs out of the courtroom, which led someone in the audience to shout, “This court is broken!”
The sentencing took nearly two hours, about 35 minutes of which were Tim’s stirring statement to the judge. (Read the full transcript of his remarks here.)
As he spoke, his conviction electrified the room with palpable force: Picture a cross between Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington set to the doomy but triumphant mood of the final Harry Potter movie. The ban on cameras in the courthouse especially hurt as he shared these words:
If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens. My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short-term profits. I take that very personally. Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.
His words appeared to humble even the prosecution. After both sides made their final statements, Judge Benson even remarked, “He gave a fine speech today, he did,” adding, “If you had a unique case of unique cases, this one fits the bill.” Benson noted that in 20 years as a judge, he’d never seen so many people in a courtroom as for this trial.
Despite these thoughtful words, he delivered a much harsher sentence than many had hoped for. Shouting in the courtroom led to supporters zip-tying each other on the courthouse steps. Others made their way to a nearby intersection, where they sang and blocked traffic until they were told they could either leave or stay and be arrested.
Twenty-six people — 13 men and 13 women — chose to stay and were arrested in solidarity with Tim, making the statement that they will not be discouraged from participating in civil disobedience. The group were all charged with unlawful use of streets, blocking public transportation, and failure to disperse. The police and protestors showed a civil and sometimes friendly rapport, occasionally even trading smiles.
The arrested protesters were released today. Tim is being held in the Davis County Jail, where he’ll stay for 30 days. (Note to supporters: Tim has requested people not protest in front of the jail, but instead to show your support by taking action in your own community.) Tim and his lawyers have 14 days to make an appeal.
I’ll leave you with Tim’s final words to the judge:
This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.
Get Grist in your inbox