‘I cannot stand silently’: Six arrested during October protest at L3Harris appear in court, rally supporters afterward

Fergus Marshall listens as Peter Kakos and Nick Mottern hand out flyers on their call to fast for a cease-fire in Palestine on Thursday on Main Street in Northampton. “It’s an act of desperation,” said Kakos.

Fergus Marshall listens as Peter Kakos and Nick Mottern hand out flyers on their call to fast for a cease-fire in Palestine on Thursday on Main Street in Northampton. “It’s an act of desperation,” said Kakos. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Zehra Parvez, one of the six arrested protesting L3Harris in October, speaks at a rally held in their support after leaving the Hampshire County courthouse on Thursday.

Zehra Parvez, one of the six arrested protesting L3Harris in October, speaks at a rally held in their support after leaving the Hampshire County courthouse on Thursday. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Sister Clare Carter was at the rally Thursday in support of the six people arrested for protesting L3Harris in October.

Sister Clare Carter was at the rally Thursday in support of the six people arrested for protesting L3Harris in October. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

 Paki Wieland, one of the six arrested for protesting L3Harris, gets a hug from sister Clare Carter after leaving the Hampshire County Superior courthouse in Northampton following her pretrial hearing on Thursday. The six arrested individuals were later greeted by a rally held in their support.

Paki Wieland, one of the six arrested for protesting L3Harris, gets a hug from sister Clare Carter after leaving the Hampshire County Superior courthouse in Northampton following her pretrial hearing on Thursday. The six arrested individuals were later greeted by a rally held in their support. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Sonya Epstein, Zehra Parvez and Paki Wieland, 3 of the 6 arrested protesting L3Harris leaving the Hampshire County Superior Court house after their pretrial hearing, walk toward a rally held in their support and asking for direct action against L3Harris.

Sonya Epstein, Zehra Parvez and Paki Wieland, 3 of the 6 arrested protesting L3Harris leaving the Hampshire County Superior Court house after their pretrial hearing, walk toward a rally held in their support and asking for direct action against L3Harris. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 12-14-2023 9:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Sonya Epstein was crystal clear before a Hampshire District Court judge Thursday afternoon when explaining why she took part in a protest outside the Northampton facility of defense contractor L3Harris that led to her arrest two months ago.

“It feels like I have to do everything in my power to save even one life,” Epstein told Judge Danielle Williams. “I don’t want a company like that in my backyard, and I cannot stand silently and allow it to exist anymore.”

Epstein was in court to answer charges of trespassing, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest stemming from the Oct. 12 protest, which was not only against the work that takes place inside L3 Communications but also a stand against the Israel-Hamas war. They said they felt a moral obligation for their actions of civil disobedience, accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, which has seen more than 18,000 people killed since the start of the fighting on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists struck civilian targets in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people.

Five other protesters were in court for a pretrial hearing: Priscilla Lynch, Zehra Fareen Parvez, Clara Wagner, Dorothea Melnicoff and Paki Wieland.

Organized by Demilitarize Western Mass, protesters blocked the entrance to the building on Prince Street for seven hours using a boat and two boat trailers, with the six arrested chaining themselves to the makeshift barricades. They refused to move when police arrived on the scene and were eventually arrested, with saws needed to remove them from the barricades.

All six were represented by Luke Ryan, a Northampton attorney specializing in civil rights litigation with the law firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose. Four of the protesters — Parvez, Wagner, Epstein and Melnicoff — were ordered to keep away from the L3Harris building but were told their cases would be dismissed after three months if they abided by the conditions.

The other two protesters, Wieland and Lynch, both longtime activists in the Northampton area, would be advancing to trial, in addition to not being allowed near the L3Harris property for the next three months.

“I’m doing this because we can’t go on like this,” Lynch told the court. “Children are dying now because of places like L3Harris and the grip they have on our country, on our economy and on our minds.”

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In a statement, Weiland said, “We were accused of disturbing the peace, when our intent was, and remains, to disturb the war in all its dimensions.”

After leaving the courthouse, the six were greeted by cheers from a group of around 50 demonstrators who had gathered in front of the courthouse to show solidarity and to protest the war in Gaza.

Speaking to the crowd, Parvez said she first became involved in activism against L3Harris due to the company’s involvement with the government of Saudi Arabia, which has been waging a military campaign in the neighboring country of Yemen. With the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, Parvez said the need to protest was now even more imperative to her, reading off a list of women who had been killed in Gaza who shared her first name.

“How can we not go out onto the streets and shout with our hearts and use our bodies to block intersections?” Parvez said. “If this disturbs the so-called peace, if this upsets the sacred principle of private property, so be it.”

Demilitarize Western Mass describes itself as a collective of “antiwar, anti-imperialist, abolitionist activists confronting the military-industrial complex via education, advocacy and direct action.”

Other activism

Two longtime activists at the demonstration following the court appearance, Peter Kakos and Nick Mottern, announced they were beginning a fast, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, until a permanent cease-fire is declared in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“It just seems that our thoughts and our prayers are not enough. We’re going to take action and get people motivated,” Kakos said. “We’re inviting everyone to join us to fast until the cease-fire takes place and we stop sending bombs and weapons.”

The L3Harris protest is just one of dozens that have taken place across the Pioneer Valley since the start of the war, with others also resulting in arrests. At UMass Amherst, 56 students and one professor were arrested in October after occupying the school’s Whitmore Administration Building for a sit-in protest.

A similar protest occurred later Thursday evening at Smith College’s Campus Center Cafe, with students holding a “die-in” protest with the goal of pressuring the schools’ administration to divest from companies from military and defense companies, including L3Harris.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.