Tucson resident Keith McHenry, 45, is a co-founder of Food Not Bombs. We're not talking about just the eight-member Tucson chapter; we're talking about the entire organization. The 45-year-old freelance graphic designer artist, who's called Tucson home for about three years, has been cited and/or arrested four times within the last six weeks or so while protesting, giving out literature or serving free food. He was cited for assault and criminal damage at the March 20 anti-war protest, and arrested--spending a night at the Pima County Jail--on March 22 for disturbing the peace at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair. This is nothing new for him, however; he's been arrested more than 130 times, he claims. He also says he's been told he'll be thrown right back in the pokey if he shows up to any more protests.
How was your Saturday night in jail?
Horrible. It reminded me of when I was facing Three Strikes in California. It brought back that whole dread of being in jail. Also, I have fibromyalgia, and it aggravated that, so I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat the food, either.
You were facing the Three Strikes law in California?
Yeah, I was the first white person to face the California Three Strikes law, which would have put me in prison for 25 years to life. The first strike was when I was assaulted by (former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan's) community liaison and charged with assault, battery and strong-arm robbery. The second was assault with a deadly weapon after (San Francisco) Supervisor Barbara Kaufman's aide slammed a door on a friend of mine. The glass broke and it cut my hand. They claimed the glass was a deadly weapon and that it was supposed to have been propelled into the neck of the aide. The third was possession of stolen property. We borrowed milk crates from a vegetarian restaurant to use as tables while we served food.
Were you convicted for any of this?
No. After spending six months in jail, I bailed out. Amnesty International instituted a worldwide campaign to free me. The United Nations started pressing the United States to end the campaign of terror against us. Eventually, the city (of San Francisco) offered to drop the Three Strikes if I agreed to plead guilty to a charge of disrupting a police commission meeting, so I pled guilty.
What brought you to Tucson?
I was living in Kansas City, Mo. My father got a lifetime achievement award for being a park ranger at the Tucson Convention Center. My wife at the time and I had been wanting to move to the Southwest, and I thought, "Wow, Tucson is a really great place." Plus, one of my best friends lives here. I became convinced of what was really cool about Tucson.
What is really cool about Tucson?
The Sonoran Desert is one of the aspects of it. Also, the activist community is very good and really large compared to cities of this size. It's a really close, loving community.
Tell me what happened March 20 at the anti-war rally downtown.
When the protest was winding down about 7:30 p.m., seven Marines--they weren't in uniform but wearing Marine T-shirts--from the recruitment center on Speedway Boulevard came stomping into the crowd. They were yelling, "You fucking communists! Go home! The protest is over! Go watch CNN!" The Marines started pushing people around. One with a bullhorn came up and started screaming stuff behind me, on the edge of a fountain. I stood up and tried to back out of the way, and he stepped back and fell into the fountain. His bullhorn sank. He climbed out and tried to use it, but it wouldn't work, so he ran over to the police and demanded they charge me with assault. I was hauled off to the side by five or six officers and insulted for about 20-30 minutes. Then they gave me a ticket for assault and criminal damage.
And what about at the Street Fair?
We were doing a literature table for peace at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair, handing out fliers and passing around a petition to impeach President Bush. The head of the Fourth Avenue Merchants' Association came out and started harassing me and taking digital photographs of me. The police were called over, and they saw we were doing nothing illegal, so they would leave. But he was taunting me, so I quietly told him I thought he should be ashamed that he would harass somebody. He claimed it was an insult, so I apologized. ... I started to pack up and I walked around the corner into a group of bicycle police. They arrested me and claimed I had insulted the head of the Merchants' Association.
Many people reading this, myself included, are skeptical that you've been arrested so many times, yet you claim you've never done anything wrong. How do we know you're not telling the whole story?
It's pretty clear that I have been an effective organizer for peace and against poverty. According to internal memos from the SFPD, their goal was to eliminate me because of my success at organizing. Probably the same thing is going on here in Tucson. I am a target because of my abilities to successfully organize.