Anti-drone activist reports to jail for six-month sentence

Mary Anne Grady Flores, handcuffed in court Jan. 19 in East Syracuse, N.Y. (Ellen Grady)

Wondering if she will ever see her mother again, Catholic anti-drone activist and grandmother Mary Anne Grady Flores made a final stop Tuesday, Jan. 19,  to say goodbye to her mother, Teresa Grady, before leaving Ithaca, N.Y., to report to jail to begin serving a six-month jail sentence in East Syracuse, N.Y.

In a case that has dragged on for almost three years, Grady Flores, 59, chauffeured by two of her four children, headed off into a threatening winter snowstorm hoping to get to the Town of DeWitt Court by Tuesday afternoon, where she was remanded to custody at the Jamesville Correctional Facility.

In an odd twist, Grady Flores, who also has three grandchildren, went to the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base just to take photographs of her sister and seven other Catholic activists who were blocking a road in a 2013 Ash Wednesday protest. In a 2014 trial, Grady Flores was convicted, sentenced to a year in jail and fined $1,000. Ironically, the other eight defendants, including Grady Flores' sister, Ellen Grady, were acquitted.

 She was released on a $5,000 appeal bond after spending a week in jail. On Jan. 12 Grady Flores was notified by the court that her appeal was denied and she was ordered to report to jail, her one-year sentence reduced to six months.

When the camera-toting Grady Flores accidentally stepped into the road, she was taken into custody for violating an "order of protection," that the court put in place to thwart the anti-drone protests that have been going on since 2010. The protection order, normally used in cases of domestic violence, bars activists from going near Col. Earl Evans and his workplace -- Hancock. Evans, mission support group commander for the 174th Attack Wing (which includes drones) requested the order after an anti-drone demonstration at the base in 2012.

In an interview with NCR, Grady Flores said Evans testified at her trial that he did not know the defendant, that he was not afraid of her and never had a conversation with her. "I just want those protesters away from my base," Grady Flores said Evans told the court. Now, Grady Flores' lawyers are taking her appeal to the N.Y. State Court of Appeals.

"Our attorneys are arguing that you cannot take out an order of protection on behalf of property," she said.

She has requested a bond while the appeal is pending, but the legal process could move so slowly that she may have to serve her full sentence, which she calculates would be three months and three weeks with credit for time-served and the "good time" she would receive under New York State sentencing guidelines.

Most important to Grady Flores is her mother's health. Teresa Grady is the matriarch, and Grady Flores is the eldest sibling, of the renowned Grady family of peace activists, all of whom live in Ithaca. Teresa Grady's late husband, John, and her five children, as well as some of the grandchildren, have all spent time in jail and prison for anti-war actions. The elder Grady, who is 88, suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and has recently been in declining health. Grady Flores said she had a hopeful, good visit with her mother Tuesday.

"It was so sweet; she was so upbeat," Grady Flores said. "She was smiling. She was saying, 'I hope to see you soon. I love you.' And she was full of joy, and I told her, 'Mom, I'll be out.' She said, 'You come out soon.'"

Grady Flores said just three days earlier her mother "was not looking good," but was doing better Tuesday. "If I had left having only seen her on that night, I would not be walking with the right joy in my heart that I am feeling now," Grady Flores said. "But you never know. There's all kinds of possibilities, and so we just need to be real. I said to Mom, 'Thank you Mom for teaching me how to do this, for teaching all of us how to do this.'"

Asked if she was afraid heading off to jail, Grady Flores replied: "No, I'm not afraid. I feel so incredibly carried by this grace that is just lifting me and helping me move through with a calm that I have not felt -- I don't think -- ever before considering what I'm facing and possibly losing Mom.

"I'm set. I have an incredible support community. The drone pilots refer to their program as 'bug splat,' which is really crude. That's one of the ways, only one of the ways, that they dehumanize the other, the victims.

"I'm going into jail, but I'm not bug splat. I'm alive, and I have an incredible, loving community of people that are praying and joining the resistance. Of course I'm going to go in and see a bunch of great friends in there -- including the guards. I've met them before and I have had great conversations with them."

[Patrick O’Neill is a longtime NCR contributor.]

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