By Jack Coyle | email@example.com
Jason Flores-Williams thinks that the key to fixing the prison-industrial complex issue could be getting arrested.
“If everybody college-aged right now would commit to one civil disobedience arrest we could change the world,” Flores-Williams said.
“Then you’re going to have this prosecution against you and you’re not going to plea, you’re not going to try to get out of it, you’re going to use the media to shine a light on your court appearances. Because court provides a platform to shine a light on a number of injustices. And you’re not going to back down, you’re going to use it, and if everybody committed to that, and committed to going to trial everybody would have six months of shining a light on an issue, on a degradation, that goes way past injustice, that is probably now amounting to the annihilation of the human race on the planet.”
After all, he would know. Flores-Williams was arrested for arranging a “die-in” in the middle of Fifth Avenue, Manhattan in 2004 to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was a part of and wrote moving pieces about the Occupy Wallstreet movement. He also served as legal counsel for a few members of DisruptJ20 – a group of 400 protesters rounded up at President Donald Trump’s inauguration and slapped with felony charges for the violent actions of a few – which Flores-Williams finds ludicrous.
“Now looking back it’s almost comical, but at the time it was unbelievably oppressive,” Flores-Williams said.
And though most of those charges were dropped or plead out, according to Flores-Williams, the lasting damage was on the spirit of the protest movement as a whole.
“It worked, you notice the major protests from the Trump years have been passive now. They post signs that say this is a non-violent protest. So basically the protests are just large gatherings, there’s nothing to threaten the status quo,” Flores-Williams said.
His fight for the right to protest is just a piece of Flores-Williams activism, as his entire legal career has been effectively “fighting the good fight” as he puts it. Or, taking on the status quo. Whether that be highlighting social injustice through his essays and novels, defending the wrongfully accused on death row in post-Katrina New Orleans, or as an activist suing the city of Denver for the rights of the Colorado River, Flores-Williams believes in safeguarding the helpless.
Maybe because he knows what it’s like to be in their position.
Growing up in the Santa Fe area, Flores-Williams lived well. His father was a local business owner who seemingly did well enough to provide them with a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle.
“I remember having five cars in front of the house,” Flores-Williams said.
But, it was short-lived. In the early ’80s, Flores-Williams’ father was arrested on a range of drug trafficking charges. This was during the beginning of the drug war and though Flores-Williams admits that his father did sell drugs, he explains that the case the DEA presented against him was blown far out of proportion. The federal indictment painted his family as a cartel. The federal government seized all of the family’s assets.
“They just storm-trooped the house and were acting like I was non-existent. They were irrespective of the fact that there were children in the home. Yeah my dad might have sold some drugs, but these were still human beings and American citizens with rights,” Flores-Williams said.
Flores-Williams went from upper-middle class to his mother being unable to receive welfare due to government intervention. This was his first exposure to the cruel indifference of bureaucracy and the systematic way the court system can tear a family apart.
He’s spent the majority of his life railing against this system, and while it has won him many supporters it has also brought criticism, primarily from the system he’s fighting.
Ted Hamm, who worked with Flores-Williams at the Brooklyn Rail, said this about writing with him: “It wasn’t easy. The publisher was squeamish and always worried about offending rich donors (the Brooklyn Rail is a nonprofit). So I had to fight to include Jason’s stuff. And sometimes I had to fight with Jason when I didn’t think something worked. But it was well worth the effort because he wrote some memorably incendiary pieces.”
Journalist Chris Walker, who has covered Flores-Williams extensively in the Denver area has also seen opposing attitudes towards the man.
“Mr. Flores-Williams’ bravado and the fact that he chooses controversial cases, such as representing individuals who were present at the J20 protests during Trump’s inauguration in D.C., all but guarantees that attitudes towards him are mixed. He is both reviled and exalted, depending on who you talk to and what the issue is,” Walker said.
But Flores-Williams doesn’t mind upsetting anyone, and he thinks that you shouldn’t either. In fact, he thinks a big problem is the fear of repercussions coming from progressives.
“I think there’s this wall in American society. You’re either going to get in trouble or you’re not. And a lot of what exists on the left is this huge effort to appear as radical and engaged without getting in trouble,” Flores-Williams said.
But maybe getting in trouble is exactly what we need to do.
Flores-Williams explains this idea in a single phrase:
“Breaking an unjust law at a time in which the legal system maintains and upholds an unjust status quo is mandated to be a moral human being.”