We had a very good friend named Woody, who was our family angel, frequent visitor, honorary uncle to our son who is now 21, former lover of my wife Mary before our marriage, and my best friend. He was a light-being, an artist, a man who lived lightly on the earth, consumed little, listened well, and loved children and dogs especially. He was our Woody, our dearest family friend. He had a history of political activism and environmental activism, and claimed to us that he knew some things that the government had done that would not be very good publicity for the government’s record. He would not tell us what he knew and would only discuss it outdoors, away from houses and phones. He felt that he might some day be a target for the government and lived a low profile lifestyle.
On December 2nd, 2001, Woody entered a Unitarian Church in Brattleboro, Vermont, breathless and afraid, requesting political asylum. He stated to the congregants of the church that he had been visited by federal agents who threatened his life and the safety of his loved ones. He turned to the Unitarians for support and protection from these perceived threats, and threatened to kill himself with a small knife if he was left alone. Eighteen people remained with him and attempted to assuage his fears and calm him down.
Meanwhile, people who had left the room called 911 and alerted the police, giving false information about Woody’s threats of suicide, painting a picture instead of a church held hostage and a man “gone berserk”. At the time of that call, Woody was seated calmly with several people and was trying to call us on a cell phone to have us vouch for him and his claims.
Tragically, due to post-9/11 bravado and out of excessive and unnecessary fear, the police burst into the church and riddled Woody’s body with seven bullets within 60 seconds of entering the room, and 17 of 18 eyewitnesses all claim to this day that he never threatened anyone but himself. It was on our answering machine that we actually heard Woody yell for help, struggling in pain as he lay bleeding from seven gunshot wounds, the shots having been fired while he waited to leave us a message. It was in that short time---during our out-going message---that he was shot so many times. The officers were completely exonerated of any wrong-doing and there have been no changes made or apologies given for this horrible tragedy and loss of life. In the aftermath of his death, we formed a citizen group called “Justice for Woody” in order to call for justice in his case and to align with other organizations to stop the excessive use of force by police and other abuses of power by American law enforcement.
To add insult to injury, a civil suit against the town of Brattleboro by Woody’s family was thrown out of court by a conservative federal district judge in Brattleboro in 2004. The case has been appealed to the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and a panel of judges has agreed to hear arguments regarding the need for a civil trial by jury. This hearing is due to take place some time in early 2005 and may lead to an actual civil trial. We also realize that the 2nd Circuit may decide against Woody’s family, permanently dashing all hopes of justice. It is a long and lonely struggle yet we still cannot give up the cause, although we have become more internal in our struggle as opposed to our more vocal opposition and protest of a few years ago. Meanwhile, we attempt to heal from the trauma and move on with our lives as Woody’s death lingers and the injustice goes unpunished and under-recognized. Luckily, Woody’s spirit lives on in all of us and we carry him in our hearts forever. He remains a constant presence in our lives, and it is a source of solace that our relationship with him is not ended; only changed.
I invite you to visit http://www.justiceforwoody.org to learn more about Woody, his life, and our three-year struggle and recovery. Thanks.