During Occupy’s most resonant days in New York in late 2011 and early 2012, regular marches and protests led typically to at least a handful of arrests. Those nights, tired bodies would trickle out of lower Manhattan’s central booking, slapped with minor charges, into the arms of supportive friends and activist allies holding vigil outside. Gerald “Jerry” Koch, now 24, was already an old hand at jail support for activists by that time. His suited, skinny frame haunted court buildings until the early hours following arrests, helping gather bail funds and legal support. Under Koch’s vigilant, pestering watch, the holding cells filled with political protesters would be emptied as soon as possible.
Now Koch — my longtime friend, Jerry — faces up to a year and a half in jail himself. He is the latest anarchist in the U.S. to have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. He will not cooperate and his silence could land him months in federal custody, without charge or conviction for a crime. I have written at some length in recent months about the federal grand jury system, which I describe as one of the blackest boxes in the judicial arsenal. I noted, for example, how four anarchists in the Pacific Northwest were jailed for resisting cooperation with a Seattle grand jury, believed to be investigating property damage wrought against the city on May Day 2012.
Three of the Northwest grand jury resisters were held in solitary confinement for much of their five-month detainment. Again, they were not charged with or convicted of any crimes. I noted too how prosecutors in Massachusetts pushed journalist Quinn Norton into becoming a “reluctant witness” in the grand jury investigation into now-deceased technologist Aaron Swartz. Norton, looking back on her experience in light of her friend’s suicide, called the process “the mechanics of snitching.”