Stories By My Friends

Home land Security?  What would Woody do?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Home land Security?  What would Woody do?

Robert "Woody" Woodward March 19, 1964-December 2, 2001

Please Remember Woody--and Visualize Justice--on this 4-year Anniversary
By: Mary Rives
December 2
Please visit Keith's Weblog at linkFor more than 15 years, we had a very dear friend named Woody, a soulmate, in fact, who was our family angel, frequent visitor, and honorary uncle to our son who is now 22. He was a light-being, an artist, a world traveler, a man who lived lightly on the earth, consumed little, listened well and loved children. He had a history of political and environmental activism and loved living in our happy valley. Even after his move to Vermont, he visited often. He was our Woody, our dearest family friend and friend to many across the valley and the globe.On December 2nd, 2001, Woody entered the Unitarian Church in Brattleboro, Vermont, in fear for his life, and desperately seeking sanctuary. He stated to the congregants of the church that he had been visited by federal agents the night before who threatened his life and the safety of his loved ones---a reality later confirmed by Woody's neighbors. (Since the dust has settled significantly, as his close friends we now feel that we can reveal that Woody had knowledge--and possibly proof--of some government wrongdoing/s, thus we strongly suspect this is why the feds made a sneak and peek visit to his apartment that Saturday night after a freshly enacted Patriot Act).  Woody returned home from a party where he had been his usual fine and happy self, playing with kids and having a great time, to 2 FBI agents rummaging through his apartment. That is enough to put the sanest person (such as Woody) right over the edge, especially after the threats the agents allegedly made that terrified him to his core.As this sad story goes, the next morning Woody turned to the Unitarians for support and protection. As a back-up plan when people began to leave the church, he threatened to kill himself with a small knife if he was left alone, as his request was for people to bear witness. Eighteen kind and caring people remained with him and attempted to assuage his fears and help calm him down. Meanwhile, people who had left the room called 911 and alerted the police, giving misleading information about Woody and the situation at hand. 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 7 bullets within 60 seconds of entering the room. 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 (one of which lodged in Woody's back after he was down). The shots were fired while he waited to leave us a message. Immediate medical care that could have saved his life was denied and then delayed. Since that fateful afternoon four years ago, our lives, and many others who were touched by Woody's life, will never be the same. The world is not the same without this benevolent being's laughter, kindness and altruistic generosity.The officers who so brutally took Woody's life were completely exonerated of any wrong-doing. There have been no apologies made for this horrible tragedy and unnecessary loss of a precious life. There was also no grand jury and no civil trial yet allowed. Thus, along with other friends of Woody in the wake of this tragedy and travesties of justice, we helped form a citizens' group called "Justice for Woody" (http://www.justicefowoody.org/) in order to call for justice and to align with other organizations to stop the excessive use of force by police and other abuses of power by American law enforcement. Our four-year struggle for justice--and path of recovery and healing--has been a long, arduous and lonely one, wrought with consistent obstructions of justice from our legal system, deep community divisiveness in Brattleboro, and, with the exception of Traprock Peace Center and The Malik Organization, disappointingly little support from local activist organizations. Yet, many individuals have generously given their support, compassion and time to this cause, often in the worst of New England weather conditions, many of whom didn't even know Woody. To you all, we give thanks!Update: In 2004, a civil suit against the town of Brattleboro by Woody's family was thrown out of court by a conservative federal district judge, Judge Murtha, in Brattleboro, Vermont. The case was appealed to the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City where a panel of judges heard arguments regarding the need for a civil trial by jury. This hearing took place a few months ago and the judges threw the case back to Judge Murtha in Brattleboro to more thoroughly investigate the case. Murtha's second decision is still pending as we wait in hopes for the Woodward family to have their day in court. In these past two years, we have become more internal in our struggle for justice as opposed to our more vocal and visible opposition and protest for the first two years since this avoidable tragedy. When a person experiences a sudden preventable death such as Woody's, healing is what the grieving person may need firstthen justice. Perhaps justice can only be requested in the midst of healing. As we continue to heal from the trauma and move on with our lives, perhaps there will be justice for Woody after all (which really means justice for all). The pending civil suit WON would bring positive changes to a deeply misguided and troubled police department, especially in the form of increased training, community partnership building and higher salaries for police officers. More lives will be spared, less people will suffer, the community may finally feel safe to call on its police who, through mandatory trainings and continued practice, may courageously utilize options other than the use of excessive and lethal force on citizens in need of help. ~As you may know, police brutality and wrongful deaths by police are a rapidly growing problem in communities across the country. It is a war being fought on our own turf, against our own people, and in this case, in our own back yard. We never thought such a phenomenon would hit home so closely, but it did. And such preventable deaths continue to hit home for far too many people every day.~During this holiday season, while Woody's physical absence in our lives is still palpable and we miss him terribly, we are grateful for the time we did have together. Woody's spirit lives on 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 www.justiceforwoody.org to learn more about Woody and our ongoing quest for justice. Even though nothing will ever bring Woody back in the same form, hopes sail high for the Woodward family to have their day in civil court. May our collective vision, prayers and hopes for justice eventually prevail. In closing, you may care to see the December 1 Valley Advocate issue, page 8 or 9, to see Woody's photo and for a brief mention of this 4-year anniversary. It is titled, "Remember Woody". If you are moved or inspired to drop a note of thanks or any message to the Advocate for their continued coverage, you may email Tom Vannah at tvannah@valleyadvocate.com. Thanks so much for making the time to read this and for passing this on to others.
Blessings all around!In solidarity,
Mary Rives
www.justiceforwoody.org

PS I have forgiven!

updated 6 years ago