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Drone protesters given hope after first time acquittal

Members of the Upstate Drone Action organization stand outside of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base on Feb. 13, 2013 to protest drone strikes.
The roar of aircraft engines hum in the distance as members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars stand in the street outside of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base on February 13, 2013. Ellen Grady stands alongside seven other demonstrators with signs in their hands and ash crosses on their foreheads. The activists stood their ground in front of the air field entrance on a cold Wednesday morning to protest the use of unmanned MQ9 Reaper drones at the base. Five of the eight protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, or simply Upstate Drone Action, is a grassroots organization made up of activists from Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton and Ithaca. Many of the Ithaca members are also affiliated with the Catholic Workers, a group that strives to help the needy and stop violence through the charity and justice of Jesus Christ according to their website.

A trial was held in Dewitt, N.Y., for the five demonstrators who were charged. In a surprising decision, the defendants were found not guilty and were released on October 24. This was the first time protestors who were stationed outside of Hancock were found not guilty since protests began in 2009.

Grady, a Catholic Workers member, said the latest Hancock protest was held on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For those of the Christian faith, it is a day to reflect on their lives and repent.

“Lent is a time to rededicate ourselves to Jesus’ call to love one another,” she said. “We brought with us signs asking for forgiveness for the killing and maiming of children and we brought photographs of children that were killed in Pakistan by the drone strikes.”

Upstate Drone Action has staged several protests at Hancock since the organization was founded in 2010. Grady has served two different sentences for her protests there before being acquitted last week.

Ellen Grady’s sister, Clare, is also an Upstate Drone Action and Catholic Workers member. She said the court decision on October 24 was correct and she also said this ruling was important because the courts have sided with the Hancock base in the past.

“They had repeatedly upheld the use of drones at Hancock,” she said. “They didn’t look at the big crime of those weapons. In all I’m glad they were acquitted of disorderly conduct because they were not disorderly.”

Ellen Grady said the decision by Town Justice Robert L. Jokl, Jr. represents forward momentum for Upstate Drone Action’s cause.

“I think it’s wonderful, I think it’s a beginning and it’s a first step. God bless the judge for taking that first step,” she said. “I think that’s progress.”

Now that the charges have been dropped, Grady says she will continue to uphold her duties as a Catholic and as an American citizen to protest the illegal killing of innocent people with drone strikes.

Clare Grady and four other undisclosed members of Upstate Drone Action are being called to court on Dec. 12. The trial will address an order of protection taken out by Col. Earl Evans against a group of protesters at Hancock Air Base on Oct. 25, 2012. The order of protection banned 17 people from protesting near the base for the past year, and a breach of that order would garner a possible prison sentence of between one and seven years. Grady said she is unsure how the upcoming trial will affect protests going forward.

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