Originally published in the March 16 Ithaca Times. Photo by Diane Duthie.
Grady Flores and I talked for about an hour and a half on the Friday morning before this story was published, going over everything from the minutiae of where the property lines are at the Air Force base to the peace movement’s arguments for enforcing international law.
Ithaca peace activist Mary Anne Grady Flores was released from the Jamesville jail in Onondaga County on March 7. She had spent 49 days in lock-up for violating an order of protection against Col. Earl Evans, commander of Hancock Air Force Base.
Grady Flores’ imprisonment came about from her involvement with the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which has staged protest actions at Hancock since 2010. The base hosts a command center for the remote pilots who control MQ 9 Reaper drones, which are used in missile strikes at alleged terrorists in numerous countries overseas.
At a demonstration on Oct. 25, 2012 outside the Hancock base gates, Grady Flores was arrested with numerous other protesters and taken to the DeWitt Town Court. There, a one-year order of protection to keep them away from Evans was issued to the arrested. On Feb. 13, 2013, Ash Wednesday, Grady Flores was taking photographs of other protesters outside the base gates.
“I wasn’t planning on getting arrested,” Grady Flores said in an interview with the Times. “I had a catering job the next day.”
As the police moved to arrest the protesters, Grady Flores started walking down the road to a diner to freshen up and get a cup of coffee when a police car swung around to pick her up. She said that photographs of that day show she never set foot on the base’s property—and moreover, where property lines are there are unclear.
“It’s important to explain this stuff, but it’s a huge distraction,” Grady Flores said, as she traced out the geography of the protest area with her hands. The base has eventually said that its property goes out to the double yellow line in the middle of Molloy Road, though many officers arresting protesters have admitted later in court they did not know where that line was.
In February 2014, Grady Flores was one of 12 protesters from the October 2012 action to be sentenced to 15 days in jail for disorderly conduct. In May of that year, her charge for violating the order of protection went to trial. That trial was frustrating because the moral and legal arguments that protesters have raised in the past were all off-limits, Grady Flores said. In the past, drone activists have had former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark testify to a Town of DeWitt justice about the connections between international war crimes law and local law in cases where they’re charged for disorderly conduct and/or trespassing.
The short of their argument, Grady Flores said, is the “justification rule.”
“If there’s a fire in a house you have a right to break a front door to save a life,” she said. “We can’t leave it only to those who are in power and we’ve known that throughout history. In the case of wars it’s been the veterans themselves who have had that quantum-leap moment where the secret is out and they want to know why they’re marching to wars and dying in the thousands. In the case of the drone pilots, they’re succumbing to [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
In July 2015, Grady Flores was sentenced to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, which her attorney Lance Salisbury notes is the maximum and “extremely unusual and severe.” When an appeal to the Onondaga County court was denied, Grady Flores had to surrender on Jan. 19 to begin her sentence, which had been reduced to six months by that time.
The experience of incarceration has its rules and routines that seem minor, but add up to a less than wholly human experience.
“No one is allowed to give hugs or touch one another in jail – you’re supposed to get seven hugs a day to be healthy and I’m in starvation mode,” Grady Flores said. Even something so simple as the guards making their rounds every 15 or 20 minutes, with keys jangling and their “bloody bleeping” scanners takes some time to block out.
Incarcerated in a pod with about 60 other women, Grady Flores said there were moments of joy. On one day, Grady Flores’ friend Carissa returned from the downtown Syracuse jail excited, because she had met four women who had been arrested at a Jan. 28 action at Hancock. Later, Grady Flores was called to the TV room to see her comrades on the 6 o’clock news. And while she’s a self-proclaimed radio news junkie with no television for 20 years, Grady Flores did discover she liked the Ellen DeGeneres show while “in the hole.”
Grady Flores is originally from the Bronx, which gave her “a lot of street cred.” One of the guards said hello with the greeting “What’s up, OG,” one day.
“What’s that mean? Old Grandma?” Grady Flores asked the guard. “No, he said, old gangster.”
Grady Flores might yet have to return to jail. She’s out on a “stay of judgment,” while the New York Court of Appeals, its highest court, decides whether to hear her appeal. That appeal relies on a misuse of the order of protection, typically applied in cases of domestic abuse.
At her trial for violating the order, Evans took the stand and admitted “he doesn’t know me or any of the others, he’s not afraid of me, and he never had a conversation with me,” Grady Flores said. “It was just a piece of paper to keep us away from the base.”
Grady Flores’ mother is in hospice care and she said she hopes to stay out of jail long enough to see her to the end. While Grady Flores is catching up on the news and continuing to pay attention to drone warfare, she also wants some family time.
“There’s a bombardment of messages from society all about numbing ourselves and not taking an honest look at this thing, which is pretty hard to look at,” Grady Flores said. “I’d rather not look at it myself. I’d rather hang out with my grandchildren at the playground and waterfalls, make cookies. And I will do that, that’s what feeds my soul.”