While the police officers responsible for killing Alton Sterling can rest easy tonight knowing that they will not face criminal charges for murder, an activist was convicted on criminal misdemeanor charges Wednesday for laughing during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
On Jan. 10, 61-year-old Desiree Fairooz, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, all members of the activist group Code Pink, were arrested for causing a disruption during the hearing’s opening statements, according to a report from NBC News.
Barry and Bianchi, who were dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan to represent what Code Pink describes as Sessions’ racist past, were escorted out of the Kennedy Caucus Room and arrested first. According to a government motion, Fairooz was removed and arrested less than 30 minutes later.
Fairooz allegedly let out a laugh after Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby testified in his opening statement that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” According to the government motion, there were two bouts of laughter.
“In response to this statement, Defendant Fairooz, who had been sitting with defendants Barry and Bianchi before their disruption and removal, let out aloud [sic] burst of laughter, followed by a second louder burst of laughter,” the document reads.
Ariel Gold, who is the campaign director for Code Pink and was sitting near Fairooz, told NBC News that the noise was less than a cough.
“I would describe it as a reflex. It was such an appalling statement for Senator Shelby to make … this is such an absurdity that Mr. Sessions has a record of treating Americans equally, that she just reflexively let out a noise,” Gold said. “I was sitting about two people away, and I would say the noise was quieter than a cough.”
The case against the trio went to trial Monday and had closing arguments Tuesday. Fairooz was found guilty of disrupting Congress and parading/demonstrating on Wednesday afternoon. Barry and Bianchi were both found guilty of parading/demonstrating and unlawful display but were found not guilty of disrupting Congress, according to Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. attorney.
Each charge is a misdemeanor and carries a statutory maximum of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
“Since CODEPINK formed at the start of the Iraq war, we have continuously been in the halls of Congress and in the streets standing up against war, militarism, and hatred. That Tighe, Lenny, and Desiree were convicted for peacefully protesting the hatred and racism of Jeff Sessions is an affront to justice and contrary to the kind of peaceful tolerant world we all deserve to live in,” a group spokesperson said in a statement emailed to NBC News.
From NBC News:
Sessions has had a complicated history with race. In 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship after the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony that Sessions had made racist remarks, including calling a black U.S. attorney “boy,” and joking the Ku Klux Klan was OK until learning they smoked marijuana. Sessions denied the allegations. During the hearings, Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a letter to the committee asking that they deny Sessions the judgeship because he had attempted to “intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.” King called Sessions’ conduct “reprehensible.”
According to NBC News, this isn’t the first time political activism has led to a court date for Fairooz.
Fairooz told Gold that she has been arrested as many as 10 times, and she only remembers being convicted on one charge, for which she served a three-day jail sentence.
Gold said that what Fairooz did in the courtroom during the confirmation hearing was not a protest.
“[Fairooz] has been arrested while demonstrating in past,” Gold said. “But [her laugh] was not demonstrating. Generally, when Code Pink demonstrates, it’s very hard to miss.”
Read more at NBC News.