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Protesting student's charges dropped

Two weeks ago, Joseph Previtera dressed up like a prisoner of war and then became a prisoner himself. As reported here last week, on May 26, the 21-year-old Boston College student and three like-minded friends headed to the Armed Forces Recruitment Center, on Tremont Street, to stage a protest against the inmate abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. (See "If Only He’d Put Women’s Underwear on His Head Instead ...," This Just In, June 4.) They brought along the makings of a costume — stereo wires, a black shawl, and a black cloth — modeled after one of the Iraqi prisoners pictured in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos: specifically the hooded detainee photographed teetering atop a small box with wires hanging from his hands. Previtera put on the costume, climbed up on a milk crate positioned beside the recruitment-center entrance, and stood still. Before long, the cops appeared. Then the Boston Police bomb squad showed up. Less than two hours later, when police started taping off the area around the motionless activist, Previtera stepped down to leave. But the police intervened, hauling the Westwood native off for "disturbing the peace" — a misdemeanor police often slap on activists who pull attention-grabbing stunts, in order to get them to stop — and two heavy-duty felonies linked to the wires dangling from his fingers, "false report of location of explosives" and a "hoax device."

Word got out about Previtera’s arrest. And this past Saturday, supporters of his action staged a follow-up protest outside the recruitment office. Four activists outfitted themselves like various symbols: a Statue of Liberty with an American-flag blindfold; a Guantánamo Bay prisoner; Donald Rumsfeld; and another cloaked Abu Ghraib prisoner dressed in a costume similar to Previtera’s, but without the dangling wires. Thirty or so others showed up for support; no arrests were made. Previtera couldn’t attend, since the terms of his bail stipulated that he remain 50 yards away from the recruitment center.

Three days after the second demonstration, the charges against Previtera were dropped. This past Tuesday, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office filed paperwork "notifying the court that we are not going forward with the prosecution on the case," says DA spokesperson David Procopio. Basically, the DA’s Office didn’t find enough proof to prosecute the defendant. Procopio elaborates, "I think it was clear to anyone who’s familiar with world events that [Previtera] was protesting the prison-abuse scandal. Specifically, we attempted to determine whether he made any statements that would lead those around him to believe he was making a bomb threat, and we found no evidence of that." All the charges were dropped, even the "disturbing the peace" allegation. He adds, "We support anyone’s right to stage a political protest, so long as it’s done peacefully. This is the cradle of liberty. And symbolically, this seems an appropriate place for people to exercise those rights as long as they’re not infringing on other people’s rights."

"I still haven’t processed everything," said Previtera at his Westwood home on Tuesday evening. "It feels really great — I thought the charges were bogus in the first place." But the undergraduate activist was outside the recruitment center for a reason — and he hopes his point wasn’t lost in the hullabaloo. "I’d still like the focus to remain on what’s happened in Iraq and less on me. And hopefully this illegal occupation will end sooner rather than later."

The Boston Police Department offered no comment on the dropped charges.

Issue Date: June 11 - 17, 2004
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