North Carolina social worker defies grand jury subpoena
From Triad City Beat (NC)
Katie Yow, a 31-year-old social worker and anarchist, has been called to testify before a federal grand jury in Greensboro on July 31.
She won’t be complying. Instead, supporters from across the state will hold a rally in front of the federal building at 9 a.m. to express encouragement for her act of resistance.
Grand juries are secret proceedings that empanel citizens to determine whether prosecutors have probable cause to issue criminal indictments. Yow has said that she doesn’t know the subject of the grand jury, and that her lawyer has been unable to obtain information from the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, despite multiple attempts. Phone calls and emails from Triad City Beat to the US Attorney’s Office likewise went unreturned.
Yow, who graduated from Guilford College and lived in Greensboro for several years before returning to the Triangle area, said in a public statement: “I am resisting this grand jury with the benefit of the example of decades of committed and courageous grand jury resistance by comrades across our movements. I am resisting this grand jury with the considerable support and wisdom of many people who work every day to combat state repression. I am resisting this grand jury in solidarity with all those resisting the unforgivable daily violence of the state.”
In her statement, Yow connected the subpoena she received to what she characterized as “a spike in FBI harassment across the state,” adding, “We also know that grand juries are used to intimidate communities of resistance.” Asked to elaborate on the bigger picture of federal harassment against activists, Yow responded by email, citing a post by an anonymous author (not her, she said) on the It’s Going Down! anarchist website. The post states that “in the past six months, over half a dozen people with personal or political ties to anarchists in central North Carolina have been approached for questioning by the FBI,” beginning “in early winter with an apparent arson of the Orange County GOP office.”
Yow said in an email interview with TCB that she sees an upswing in both state repression and popular resistance under the Trump administration, but clarified that she doesn’t view the previous administration under Barack Obama as better in any significant way.
“We are seeing an escalation in state violence right now, and we’re also seeing a beautiful swell of organizing and resistance,” she said. “What we know is that historically state repression does intensify when movements become larger and more powerful, and I expect that what we’re seeing right now across movements will continue to increase. However, when I think about what is different in terms of state repression under Trump, I think about how much of this is not new. I think about how long the legacy of white supremacy and state violence is, and how equally long the histories of resistance are.
“As times are getting tougher again it becomes imperative that we honor and uplift and resource the communities and movements that have been fighting this long fight, and it is also imperative that we stick together and build stronger networks to support folks who are being targeted by political repression on whatever level it comes,” she added.
Yow worked for several years as a teacher in the Guilford County Schools system. She also co-managed North Carolina Almighty Latin King & Queen Nation leader Jorge Cornell’s 2009 campaign for Greensboro City Council, along with Eric Ginsburg. [Disclosure: Ginsburg serves as the managing editor and food writer for TCB.] When Cornell was indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2011, Yow played an active role in mobilizing support for him, and testified as a character witness in his trial the following year. She has continued to support him as he serves a 28-year sentence at Petersburg Medium FCI in Virginia after several unsuccessful appeals to his 2012 conviction. Cornell and his supporters view his conviction — which hinged on the testimony of former Latin Kings who cooperated with the prosecution — as being wholly without merit. Yow said her friendship with Cornell has “been hugely influential on the kind of person I am and the kind of work I do,” describing him as “bold and resourceful and a fighter” with “a huge heart.”
“It is still difficult to talk about what it means to all of us that he is in prison instead of out here with his family and community,” she said. “Supporting him through the [racketeering] case taught me what it means to stick by your friends when the state comes down. We’ve also learned so much about what the long haul looks like in terms of supporting folks when they are in prison, and I hope that folks reading this will reach out and find ways they can support Jay and other folks who are inside. These experiences are part of why I’m so passionate about legal and prisoner support, and why I’ve chosen to do mental health work with young folks who are impacted by incarceration and court involvement. Resisting this grand jury is about showing my community the love and commitment I’ve learned from them, and Jay is someone who teaches me what it means to have a heart that strong.”
Jude Ortiz, a writer and editor based in Oakland, Calif., started strategizing with Yow to help her resist the grand jury shortly after she received the subpoena on July 10. He said Yow’s support committee has grown to about eight people spread across the country. Through his work as a writer and activist helping people navigate the criminal justice system over the past 10 years, Ortiz said he has previously supported two friends who resisted grand jury subpoenas. One was immediately indicted after refusing to testify, while another was jailed for four months before being released without explanation, he said.
“There’s always a lot of uncertainty with grand jury proceedings,” Ortiz said. “People don’t have to be told what the investigation is about or whether they’re the target of investigation. They can be asked anything at all. The resistance of grand juries has a very strong tradition in the history of the United States. That history of resistance is not really paralleled in any other countries. Other countries in the Western civilized world have abolished grand juries, except for the United States. Some of the most inspiring groundwork comes from the Puerto Rican independence struggle, and the grand jury subpoenas that were handed down in the 1970s and 1980s. There can always be a lot of consequences, as well as benefits to protecting the people we care about and the movements we’re a part of.”
Yow said she’s prepared to pay the consequences for her decision, but deflected attention from her own sacrifice.
“There are a lot of young folks in my life, and a lot of work that I do that has had to be put on hold or handed over to others,” she said. “The impact of having school and work disrupted is substantial, and this is hard for my family and loved ones. I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive family and community who have helped me plan.
“What feels more important to me to highlight as I go through this is how much more disruptive and traumatizing many people’s every-day experiences of the criminal justice system are. Every day people go to jail and prison and lose their jobs, their homes, are taken away from their families, have their futures changed, and they are given far less support because the wider society doesn’t view their cases as ‘political,’ and because this kind of state violence against communities of color is so normalized,” she continued. “Anytime someone has to go away, it is enormously difficult for them and the people that love them.”
To learn more about Katie Yow’s case, visit ncresiststhegrandjury.com.