Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis are the two lawyers from New York who made Molotov cocktails and drove around in a minivan looking to hand them out to protesters. At one point, Rahman got out of the van and threw one at the dashboard of an NYPD vehicle. No one was inside and no one was injured but the car was destroyed. The whole thing was caught on video making it pretty much an open and shut case. For several weeks Rahman and Mattis, through their attorney, have been arguing to be released on bail and yesterday they succeeded:
Two of the three judges decided Tuesday night to reaffirm the decision of the lower court and ordered that Rahman and Mattis be released on bail. The two walked out of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn a few hours later, ending weeks of solitary confinement at the facility.
That’s the news hook but the bulk of the NPR story is an argument that, while the pair are clearly guilty of firebombing a police car, they are being treated too harshly by the feds:
The police say it is an open-and-shut case — a camera outside the 88th Precinct caught the entire episode; and, if that’s true, it is compelling evidence against Rahman and Mattis. What it doesn’t explain, though, is why their case has been treated so differently — so much more harshly — than other Molotov cocktail protester cases around the country…
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York decided to charge Rahman and Mattis federally and the charges read like a domestic terrorism case: arson, conspiracy, use of destructive device, civil disorder, making or possessing a destructive device, and the use of explosives during a crime of violence. That last charge alone – something called 924(c) in the criminal code – carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison…
Defense Attorney Paul Shechtman, who represents Urooj Rahman, said he thinks federal prosecutors brought the case because they thought the local prosecutor in Brooklyn would be too lenient.
Thirty years as a minimum does seem extreme for setting a car on fire. Many murderers don’t get that much time. But there may be some strategy by the prosecutors to bring such heavy charges that the pair caves in and accepts a plea deal rather than take their chances in court. After all, the whole thing was caught on video. There’s a clear photo of Rahman holding a Molotov out of the window of the van (above).
Despite the open-and-shut nature of this case, a friend of Rahman argues that she shouldn’t be treated like an extremist:
“She’s not a radical,” her friend Salmah Rizvi said. “She believes in our system. She’s not an anarchist or somebody on the fringe who is disconnected. No, she is quite the opposite.”
There’s just one problem with that claim, as NPR mentions a few paragraphs later. About an hour before building and throwing the Molotov, Rahman was interviewed on the street explaining exactly what her state of mind was.
“I think this protest is a long time coming,” lawyer Urooj Rahman said near the Barclays Center in Brooklyn around 12:15 a.m. May 30.
“This s–t won’t ever stop unless we f–kin’ take it all down. And that’s why the anger is being expressed tonight in this way,” she said…
“This has got to stop. And the only way they hear, the only way they hear us is through violence, through the means that they use,” she said.
“We’ve got to use the massa’s [master’s] tools, that’s what my friend always says.”
It’s almost comical the way in which this undercuts her friend’s defense. When you say people need to use violence to “take it all down” you are a radical, an anarchist and someone on the fringe. That’s exactly what Rahman appears to be. See the video below. She’s not acting out of personal rage. This was a considered and strategic action on her part.
Rahman and Mattis have both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their trial is expected to start later this month.