(Dan Choi, in uniform, before trial on March 28. Photo by Rick Rosendall)
On Thursday, March 28 in federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola found Lt. Dan Choi guilty of failing to obey the order of a law enforcement agent in his protest at the White House fence three years ago, and ordered him to pay a fine of $100 (rather than the maximum penalty of $5,000 and five years in jail). Metro Weekly reports:
In court on Thursday, Choi represented himself, cross-examining witnesses and making a series of disjointed points in order to defend himself against the charge. But Choi seemed scattered throughout the exercise, at one point breaking down into tears as he showed the courtroom a video clip of "The Rachel Maddow Show," the show on which he initially came out by publicly stating he was gay.
Following his tears, Choi got up and loudly told Facciola that he was ready for closing arguments. Facciola called a recess and ordered the parties to come back for closing arguments later that afternoon. Choi then had what several friends and observers characterized as a "breakdown," during which deputies from the U.S. Marshals Service forced the audience to exit the courtroom.
According to Choi's fellow activist Staff Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom, who peered through the glass on the courtroom doors, Choi was on the floor of the courtroom during the episode. At one point, Choi was heard sobbing, "I don't want to do this any more!" before several marshals exited the courtroom, carrying Choi, by his arms, with his legs in the air as Choi cursed at them, even telling one of the deputies, "Fuck you, you're a coward."
"I think he's tired, he's been under pressure for so long," Ben-Shalom said of Choi's mental state.
After the sentencing, Dan said he refused to pay the fine. Judge Facciola said he had a right to appeal. And so the drama goes on.
What is the point of continuing this fight? One of the traditions of civil disobedience is embracing the punishment (like Dr. King in Birmingham jail). Dan is a wounded warrior who should be urged to pay the nominal fine and focus on healing--not be egged on like a man on a ledge being encouraged to jump. Our compassion should trump our need for a martyr.
Dan has PTSD. He has talked of suicide. His main publicity photo is of him in a crucifixion pose handcuffed to the White House fence. He is mentally ill. He needs and deserves healing, not enabling by people seeking not equality but an excuse to perpetuate their outrage. His breakdown in court on Thursday should be the last straw that prompts people to pull back and reconnect with reality. Dan played a part in the fight to end the gay military ban, but there were countless people who labored and held on in the struggle for years who deserve respect as well--not dismissed with contempt in service of the myth that Dan's media appearances were the key factor. The judge on Thursday showed great restraint, which was appropriate with a returned servicemember bearing the mental scars of his service. But at long last, enough. It is time, out of simple decency, to turn away from the public spectacle of a man's self-destruction.
Bob Summersgill commented on Facebook, "A $100 fine for civil disobedience is a win. Everyone else declared victory with the repeal of DADT, so now should Dan." Amen.