Twelve activists opposed to drone warfare are spending the next few weeks in an Onondaga County correctional facility. The sentencing capped off a month-long trial, with an admonition from a judge to avoid any more protests on Hancock Air Base property.
Video shot of the Hancock 17 war crimes protesters last October in front of Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, which houses the 174th Fighter Attack Wing, showed the protesters involved in some confrontations and near-miss traffic accidents. It was that video that prompted DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon to warn activists.
"At some point you’re going to be confronted by an individual who is going to get violent," Gideon said. "I can see it happening.”
He also said he didn't want to see the situation escalate that far.
“The potential is there, I don’t want to see anyone hurt," Gideon explained. "I don’t think anyone on that base wants to see anyone hurt. That was testified over and over again by the chief master sergeant. But the bottom line is, it has to stop.”
He also told the protesters their right to object the use of drones operated out of Hancock could be accomplished without blocking access to the base.
"Nobody is limiting your right to speak," Gideon said. "All that is being asked of you, is that you do so in a manner consistent with the rights of others, and with common courtesy toward others not so like-minded.”
After finding 12 of the protesters guilty of disorderly conduct, Gideon said the continued protests on base property, which get in the way of activity there, has to stop. But he’s not optimistic.
"I’m sure that nothing I do here today, is going to make this stop," the judge explained. "I’ve heard it over and over again from you. But I also have a duty to this community, and this community has suffered.”
Gideon suggested that there are legitimate international forums where protesters could make their case against drone warfare.
This is not the first time protesters have used the base as a staging point for demonstrations, and many say they will continue to make their case there. The activists say they’ll continue to put the spotlight on Hancock, where members of the 174th Attack Wing direct drones in overseas operations. For Ed Kinane of Syracuse, he said spending 15 days in jail "is trivial, compared to what is going on overseas as a result of the war crimes being committed here at Hancock Air Base.”
Kinane added that his sentence can’t compare to suffering at the hands of drones.
“The inconvenience, the discomfort, the really awful food at Jamesville Penitentiary, the interruption of my life will be as nothing compared to what the drones are doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somolia.”
The defendants are part of the Upstate New York Coalition to Ground the Drones and End Wars.