On Friday, Jake Burdett, a 21-year-old Salisbury University student and member of our group, Indivisible Worcester Maryland, is scheduled to appear in the Wicomico County Circuit Court for "felony wiretapping." Maryland Congressman Andy Harris brought the charges against Jake.
What did Jake do? He went to the congressman’s office to emphasize his support for marijuana legalization and recorded a meeting with the congressman's staff on his phone without permission. That was the alleged "felony wiretapping." In 38 out of 50 states, the way Jake used his phone would not have been a crime.
When Jake learned that he might have violated Maryland's obscure, badly written wiretapping law, he acknowledged his mistake. He deleted the recording. He apologized. But Congressman Harris is still trying to hang a felony charge around this young man's neck.
Obviously Congressman Harris' actions in this case are against all common sense and decency. But from our personal history with the congressman we think we know why he is doing it. Dr. Harris — a physician, Donald Trump supporter and member of the far-right "Freedom Caucus" — is acting, as he has acted in other ways: to destroy our democratic freedom.
The two of us founded Indivisible Worcester Maryland in late 2016 to fight — peaceably and constitutionally — against President Trump's agenda and for democracy. Members of our group have met with staff on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland for Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen. We have been at all of Congressman Andy Harris' local Town Halls. We have visited Dr. Harris' Salisbury office a half-dozen times, once when the Congressman was there.
Congressman Harris' staff, like the staff for our senators, have always been civil to us. They have emphasized to us their subservience to our congressman. We think they would never charge one of us with a harmless, non-violent felony unless Dr. Harris personally directed them to do it.
Over the last two years we have seen Dr. Harris use escalating strong-arm tactics against constituents who dissent. More and more policemen have surrounded him.
At one Town Hall we were obliged to write down anything we had to say to the congressman on index cards at the door. Then Dr. Harris had the local sheriff select our cards from a hat, one at a time. First the sheriff read each card to himself and carefully put aside all of the questions that he apparently didn't like before reading the next card aloud to the congressman.
At another Town Hall, we saw Dr. Harris call forward a deputy to flex his muscles in an absurd way over the heads of a group of seated dissenters in an apparent attempt to shut them up. It's funny to think of now, but at the time the deputy's actions looked threatening and unreasonable enough that one of us pulled out a phone to record the scene in case the policeman over-acted.
Was that against some "wiretapping" law?
We think Dr. Harris is personally unsuited to the heat and tumult of democracy. He seems downright scared of dissenters and not too fond of his supporters, either. But the problem goes far beyond the congressman's personality.
The laws against marijuana that Jake objects to are part of the notorious "war on drugs," which, Nixon's aide John Ehrlichman admitted, was launched in the 1970s specifically to disenfranchise African-Americans and young people. Consequently, the United States has a higher rate of incarceration now than any other nation that keeps records, in any part of the world, democracy or dictatorship.
And those prisoners of ours in the United States, to our shame, are political prisoners. Like Jake, they are victims of a deliberate attack on democracy, one that Dr. Harris supports.
Indivisible Worcester Maryland members plan to sit behind Jake at his trial on the morning of March 22nd in Wicomico County Circuit Court in Salisbury to show that we support him, because an attack on one of us is an attack on all. Then, at noon, we will rally in front of the court to send Congressman Harris yet another message asking him to change course and work to save our democracy. We invite you to join us.
Toby Perkins and Susan Buyer are coordinators of Indivisible Worcester Maryland. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.