CHARAS protester’s charges are drummed out of court

Photo by Sam Spokony
Activist Eric Carter stands in front of the former CHARAS/El Bohio community center on E. Ninth St., two days after he was acquitted of charges stemming from an arrest at a protest outside that building last December.

BY SAM SPOKONY  | An activist was acquitted last Thursday of charges stemming from an arrest last December during a demonstration outside the former CHARAS/El Bohio Cultural and Community Center on E. Ninth St.

Eric Carter, 31, of Crown Heights, faced 90 days in jail on charges of criminal mischief and resisting arrest, but was found not guilty after a one-day trial in a Downtown Manhattan Criminal Court. Three other co-defendants in the case had already seen their similar charges dismissed.

The Dec. 18 protest included about a hundred activists and East Village residents, including some who were drumming with thick wooden drum sticks against the construction site wall that surrounds the empty building at 605 E. Ninth St., which the protesters aimed to “take back” for their neighborhood. Carter claimed he was not involved in the drumming, but said that New York Police Department officers on the scene claimed — on the day of the protest, and later in court — that he was drumming, and that he was inciting a major disturbance.

The CHARAS building was once a vibrant center of East Village cultural life and activism, until the city handed it over to a developer more than a decade ago.

“It’s just so ridiculous, because the symbolism of knocking on that wall was exactly what the police were attacking,” Carter told this newspaper in an interview two days after his acquittal. “But they’ll never admit that.”

The N.Y.P.D. did not respond to a request for comment.

Carter, who is also active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, was acquitted so quickly because of YouTube video evidence of the Dec. 18 protest, which was shown to prosecutors in advance of the trial.

The video shows that there was no significant damage to the construction wall as a result of the drumming, and it also shows Carter being mobbed and tackled by several police officers after raising his hands above his head in a nonthreatening gesture.

The officer who arrested him, Lisa Stokes, had alleged she saw chips of wood flying as Carter drummed, according to Carter’s lawyer, Paul Mills. Her statement was judged by the court to be false, and, as the video shows, was clearly inaccurate.

“These arrests were random, and they were made by angry police officers,” Mills said. “The police seem to believe that the streets belong to them, and they simply resent the use of the streets by activists.”

Carter, who is black, said he is certain that his race played a part in his arrest.

He explained that he has also been arrested by the N.Y.P.D. three other times in the past four months. One of those arrests, during a demonstration in Zuccotti Park in March to mark the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, was immediately thrown out, and he is now suing the Police Department for what he calls illegal action on its part.

Carter, who moved to New York from his hometown of Washington, D.C., last November, also said that he has been stopped and frisked by N.Y.P.D. officers three times since then. None of those stop-and-frisks resulted in an arrest.

“I get it, I’m a black protester,” he said. “I’m that guy. I mean, the stakes are high, and they’re higher for some people than they are for others.”