Property crime is not terrorism

This past Mother's Day was the last one for several years for which I might receive flowers or cards from my son. On future Mother's Days he will not treat me to brunch or take me to dinner. What I might get is a collect call from the federal prison where the Department of Justice will try to put him for many years.

According to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, my son is part of "the nation's No. 1 domestic terrorist threat," a small, underground environmental group that believes in nonviolence to living things but which engages in environmentally motivated property destruction.

Ironically, Gonzales made this proclamation the same week Michael Fortier, who was convicted for his involvement in planning the Oklahoma City bombing that murdered 168 people, was released from jail after serving 10 years. Although my son has neither killed nor injured anyone, federal law allows for sentences for these defendants ranging between 20 years and 1,000 years in jail.

The final decision is up to the judge; I hope that the actual sentences will better reflect the true nature of the crimes. While these defendants have struck deals with prosecutors for lesser sentences, should the judge determine that these were terrorist acts, she has the discretion to add 20 years to any sentence.

My son is one of nearly 20 young people that the U.S. attorney's office indicted more than a year ago for crimes of eco-sabotage and property damage, acts based upon their strongly held principles on animal suffering.

Like any parent, I am dismayed by some of the choices my son has made, namely his involvement in an arson at a horse slaughterhouse 10 years ago. The crimes with which these young people have been charged are serious, but any parent can disagree with their child's actions and still sense the unreasonable and unjust severity of the punishments they face.

The "terrorism enhancement" that the prosecution is seeking has been and should be reserved for murderers and those who use weapons of mass destruction in this country, not vandals who have not harmed a living thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, the T-word should be used with extreme caution.

I am one of many mothers whose children have been rounded up in a misguided witch hunt. My heart goes out to the mothers of all the other defendants, especially the mother of Bill Rodgers, who took his life in jail weeks after his arrest.

This Mother's Day marked a tragedy for us all, the result of some poor decisions by some young people and a prosecution obsessed with making examples out of them — and taking them away from us for decades to come.

Putting our children in jail for half of their lives is simply a mistake. My son is a volunteer firefighter and medic, and has spent his life saving animals and people. He has given of himself unselfishly to stop cruelty and suffering. Among others on their way to prison are a carpenter, legal aid worker, violin teacher, software engineer, disc jockey, journalist, health worker and several students.

Despite the mistakes that these young people made many years ago, they are contributing members of their communities today. One is even a young mother herself and could face more than 50 years in prison. The disproportionate sentence she faces only spells many more Mother's Days to come in which parents tied to these cases cannot be with their children.

Property destruction is not terrorism. The Department of Justice should save its "terrorism enhancement" for those who design to injure and kill, not our kids.

Sarah Paul is the mother of defendant Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, who is scheduled for sentencing June 5 in U.S. District Court in Eugene. Prosecutors have recommended that he receive a sentence of four years, nine months under a negotiated plea deal.

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