June 18, 2019
In January of 2018, a 38-year-old schoolteacher from Tucson, Scott Warren, was arrested. For leaving food and water in the desert to help refugees who had crossed the border from Mexico. In the year and a half that has since elapsed, at least 88 refugees have perished in the desert from heat exhaustion or dehydration; overall, more than 3,000 have died in the Arizona desert in the last 20 years.
Last week, Warren’s trial ended with a hung jury — eight jurors voted to acquit him, four voted to convict. The U.S. Attorney has not yet decided whether to seek a retrial. A conviction would subject him to a possible prison sentence of 20 years.
While the Attorney General insists that Warren’s prosecution is premised on the notion that he was aiding in illegal immigration, it is noteworthy that he was arrested a few hours after the refugee-rights group No More Deaths, with whom Warren is associated, distributed a video showing Border Patrol agents destroying jugs of water that the group had placed in the desert.
I am reminded of the prosecutions in Vermont and New Hampshire under the Fugitive Slave Act in the years preceding the Civil War. In those instances, the prosecution may have established that the defendants violated the law by assisting slaves to freedom, but the conscience of the community prevailed and, under the rubric of “jury nullification,” the defendants were typically acquitted.
In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.