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Monday, March 27, 2006

Activist Sent to Jail

From the March 23, 2006 Denver Post:

    Activist sent to jail for refusing to remove shirt

    By: Staff Writer Jeremy P. Meyer

    A community activist was jailed Wednesday for 45 days by an Adams County judge for wearing a T-shirt in court with a photograph of executed killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams and the word "redemption."

    Shareef Aleem, 37, was found in contempt March 1 for wearing the shirt during his trial on charges he assaulted a police officer.

    Aleem apparently refused Judge Katherine Delgado's order to remove the shirt, citing his First Amendment rights.

    Williams was a former gang member convicted of homicide in California who was executed in December despite pleas from supporters who said he had reformed.

    "There are limits to the judge's powers concerning free speech," Aleem's attorney, Mark Burton, said. He promised an appeal and said Aleem planned a hunger strike while in jail.

    Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said he doesn't believe Aleem's shirt rises to the level of contempt.

    "It is an abuse of power to order someone to jail for 45 days because of a T-shirt that does not disrespect the integrity of the court," Silverstein said. "He probably has grounds for an appeal."

    Delgado didn't return a phone call Wednesday.

    Aleem was arrested Feb. 3, 2005, during a University of Colorado Board of Regents meeting about professor Ward Churchill. Police say Aleem became combative at the meeting, then ripped off an officer's badge and grabbed an officer by the throat.

    Aleem pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault of a peace officer, which carries a 16-year prison term.

    The trial ended in a hung jury. Prosecutors are set to retry the case May 8.

    On Wednesday, Burton sought a dismissal of the contempt citation. But Delgado sent Aleem to jail, where he is being held without bail.

    According to Burton's motion, Aleem removed a T-shirt on Feb. 28 that prosecutors found offensive. That shirt had the words "U.S. History 101" and included a picture in which a white overseer whipped a black
    slave.

    The next day Aleem refused to remove the shirt depicting Williams after prosecutors objected.

    According to the motion, "He was exercising his free speech and religious rights to wear this shirt, and the shirt did not detract or interfere with the judicial process."

    Prosecutors on Wednesday would not say why they objected to the shirts.

    Miles Madorin, staff attorney for Colorado District Attorney's Council, wouldn't comment on Aleem's case but said judges need contempt power.

    "The courts operate on the fact that people willingly go along with decorum of the court," he said. "Contempt enforcement helps the courts to continue to function."

    However, Burton's motion said jurors were allowed to wear T-shirts portraying musician Bob Marley, "a political figure ... closely associated with black nationalism."