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10 People Found Not Guilty in Flood Wall Street Protest, Judge Takes Judicial Notice of Climate Change

Climate

You probably remember the polar bear getting arrested in the "Flood Wall Street" protest in September the day after the historic People's Climate March. Several thousand people took to the street in the Financial District to identify and protest against Wall Street's central role in fueling climate destruction. At the end of the day, 102 people were arrested for sitting in the street at the intersection of Broadway and Wall. Ten of the arrestees subsequently decided to fight their charges in court.

"New York City Criminal Court Judge Robert Mandelbaum recognizes that climate change is happening, humans are causing it and immediate action needs to be taken," according Flood Wall Street. Photo credit: Spencer H. Johnson via Flickr

And yesterday, these 10 were found "not guilty" by New York City Criminal Court Judge Robert Mandelbaum. According to Flood Wall Street, Judge Mandelbaum ruled that the New York Police Department's (NYPD) order to disperse violated the First Amendment. In his ruling, the judge also found "that by ordering protesters to leave the entire Wall Street area, police violated protesters' First Amendment right to carry their message directly to its intended recipients: the Wall Street bankers who bankroll climate change."

Defense Attorney Jonathan Wallace successfully argued that the Constitution protects Americans' rights to "express political speech within proximity to the target of the protest. In this case, the NYPD first prevented protesters from entering Wall Street before later ordering them to leave the area altogether." This method of policing proved to be unlawful. 

That is a victory in and of itself for the 10 individuals, as well as, the general American public and its right to protest. But the judge went even further "by taking judicial notice that climate change is happening, is a serious problem, requires immediate action and is caused by human activity," said Flood Wall Street.

“The importance of judicial notice is that the judge accepted climate change and the need to do something about it as a fact without the necessity of any evidentiary support or proof at trial,” said Defense Attorney Martin Stolar. “To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented and has significance for future litigation involving climate change.”

The ruling sets an important legal precedent in recognizing the constitutional legitimacy of mass civil disobedience actions protesting climate change, according to Flood Wall Street. The 10 defendants gave passionate testimony to the court, "affirming that their actions were justified."

“I got arrested to protect my five-year-old son’s future,” said Susan Heitker, one of the defendants. The judge’s ‘judicial notice’ shows that the climate justice movement is creating a broader shift in our society’s desire to address climate change and this gives me hope."

Jeneen Roybal, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who was one of the defendants said: “This is an important precedent, not only for climate change demonstrators, but everyone who engages in protest activity.

It's an important precedent, especially because of whom the protest was directed towards. Wall Street companies fund and profit off disaster for all us, and finance capitalism won’t be able to deal with the social fallout of climate change. We urgently need to act to save our planet and futures,” said Jason Woltjen, one of the defendants.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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