On Sunday, April 2, 2000, the following text was run as a guest column in the Tribune by Howard Mechanic Community Support Group Chair, Sherry Bohlen. The article was published under the headline MECHANIC IS A POLITICAL PRISONER, COURTESY OF NIXON.
The article read:
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON HOWARD MECHANIC
Howard Mechanic has earned the friendship of many people in the Valley, by virtue of his tireless community service, generosity, and humanity. We are deeply saddened by his incarceration for a three decades old charge that appears to have been politically motivated and highly dubious.
In the days following his surrender to federal authorities, some in the local media exaggerated or misrepresented the nature of the original charge against Howard. Admittedly, it is difficult to appreciate the context of the events of May 4 and 5, 1970 after thirty years.
At the time in question, Howard Mechanic was an outstanding student at one of the finest universities in the country. A National Merit Scholar finalist, Howard was pursuing a pre-law program, with plans to work in the area of civil rights. Howard was also active in the anti-war movement, out of moral principle rather than self-interest; his high lottery number ensured that he would not be drafted.
The night after National Guardsmen killed four student protesters at Kent State University in his home state of Ohio, Howard was arrested for violating a restraining order by appearing at a protest in the vicinity of the Air Force ROTC building at Washington University in St. Louis. He was sentenced to six months in jail, an extreme term for such an offense. Howard dutifully served that jail sentence and was released.
The federal government entered the picture by charging Howard with violating a 1968 Anti-Riot Act. Prosecutors claimed that Howard threw a cherry bomb at firefighters.
Howard has always denied throwing the cherry bomb, and the evidence suggests that his trial was unfair. It is our understanding that only one witness identified Howard as the thrower, and that witness admitted that he did not actually see Howard throw anything.
The judge presiding over the case had been recently appointed by Richard Nixon. It appears that he wanted to make an example out of Howard to intimidate protesters, and sentenced him to the maximum five-year term. This is why many of us feel that Howard is in fact a political prisoner, a victim of the Nixon administration's use of a little-known and disturbing Vietnam era law that remains in effect today.
Howard's sentence was clearly excessive and unjust. Unfortunately, during the frenzy of initial media coverage following Howard's surrender, while some in the press were portraying Howard as some kind of major criminal, the federal government charged him with another victimless crime, a consequence of Howard's attempt to live a normal life.
It is important to note that those who posted Howard's bond in 1970 did not lose any money or property, having been reimbursed by a wealthy university official. Howard has tried to repay this debt over the years indirectly by his own generosity with local charitable organizations. Professor Carter Revard, who signed the bond, recently stated: "My strongest anger is still reserved for the courts and the police state who tried so hard to put these young people in prison for a long time and to intimidate those of us who tried to help them."
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen recently traveled to Hanoi to promote direct military ties and cooperation with Vietnam. Cohen observed that "Not one individual I met with during this entire time said anything about looking back into the past to the Vietnam War."
If the United States can reconcile with its historical mililtary foe, then certainly our government can do likewise with its own people who took a principled stand against the war at great personal consequence. We believe that Howard Mechanic is deserving of a full Presidential pardon, so that he may be returned to his friends and family and to the community he has served so many years.
Sherry Bohlen is the Chair of the Howard Mechanic Community Support Group. For further information, send e-mail to email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 27991, Tempe, AZ 85285.
End of article--
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