George Lakey, a former Lang Visiting Professor of Issues for Social Change and currently a Research Associate at the Lang Center, was one of thirteen members of the group Casino-Free Philadelphia acquitted Tuesday of charges of criminal conspiracy and two misdemeanors. The “SugarHouse Thirteen” were arrested in September while blocking the construction site of the SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown.
“I’m incredibly proud my dad put his body on the line to protect our city from predatory gambling,” said Lakey’s daughter, Ingrid Lakey. She said that her father, a Quaker, always “walks the talk.”
Lakey has been an activist since the 1960’s Vietnam War protests. He specializes in non-violent conflict, teaching Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore and serving as founder and executive director of “Training for Change” — a group that teaches and creates leadership in non-violent social change. He has also published extensively on the subject and written seven books.
Lakey and the others were charged and arrested during the protest, and spent twelve to sixteen hours in jail. “This is not the fun part,” Lakey said after the trial. “It was the action [of protesting the construction of the casino]; that’s what was real, that’s where the passion was.”
The concern of the group Casino-Free Philadelphia is the “social and economic costs of predatory gambling.” Activist Francesca Lo Basso explained that the group is concerned about local businesses, which would suffer from the eventual expansion of the casino. She said Casino-Free is also concerned with crime, gambling addiction, and the deterioration of Philadelphia neighborhood communities.
Lo Basso said of the SugarHouse Thirteen, “The people on trial are the people I want in my community. They are the people who represent Philly, not the politicians or casino owners.”
Tuesday’s court proceedings lasted from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when Municipal Court Judge Patrick Dugan acquitted the thirteen defendants. Several of the thirteen expressed regrets that they did not get a chance to testify; however, they were grateful to have made an impression on legal system.
“It was the first time when got to make our case in the Philadelphia courts,” Jethro Heiko, one of the thirteen, said.
“It’s great when the state fails to suppress citizen action, it encourages others [to speak out],” Lakey said. “These are the kinds of actions citizens can and should take.”
Zein Nakhoda ’12 drove the Lang Center Van to the trial to support his professor. “[Lakey’s] an inspiring and a great teacher,” he said. “It’s great to support what he’s interested in. It’s very much linked to our classroom and his presence at Swarthmore.”
Nakhoda is in Lakey’s research seminar entitled Strategy and Non-Violent Struggle. Students in the course help Lakey develop a web database of information about human rights, environmental issues, economic justice, and international issues of ethnicity, identity, and peace.
Correction: The article originally referred to Lakey as the Lang Visting Professor of Issues for Social Change. He held that title from 2007 through 2009, but is now a Research Associate at the Lang Center.