Seven Whiteclay protesters plead guilty, get $100 fines

Published September 25, 2002

Five members of Nebraskans for Peace cited for drinking malt liquor outside the governor’s mansion this summer in a self-described act of civil disobedience concluded their protest with guilty pleas Tuesday.

Lancaster County Judge Gale Pokorny accepted the five pleas, as well as the guilty pleas of two additional members not in court, and imposed $100 fines on each.

The seven men and women opened and drank from cans of malt liquor on the governor’s lawn in June in protest of what they called slack enforcement of liquor laws in Whiteclay, a Nebraska town adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The five members present Tuesday made statements to the court about their decisions to break the law.

Byron D. Peterson, 65, told Pokorny he hoped the group’s action would call attention to and end what Peterson described as “the double standard between liquor law enforcement in Lancaster County and in Whiteclay.”

Linda Ruchala, 48, another protester, said in a prepared statement Whiteclay, a town of 14, has four off-sale dealers who sell more than 11,000 cans of beer a day in an area where there is no legal place to drink. “I think of myself as a law-abiding person, and also one who takes responsibility for her actions,” she stated. “My act of drinking beer on the governor’s front lawn was an act of political speech designed to underscore the lack of enforcement of liquor laws that occur daily in Whiteclay.”

Pokorny told the group he had no authority in Whiteclay and would treat the seven defendants no differently from other defendants appearing before him for consuming alcohol in public. The charge is a misdemeanor that includes maximum penalties of three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Winnebago Native Frank LaMere, who brought the Whiteclay issue to public attention five years ago, said the state has done little or nothing to address the problem. “The law is for the protection of the people,” he said in a written statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, it does not protect people like us.”

In addition to Peterson and Ruchala, the protesters fined were: Sarah E. Wiese, in her early 20s, John O. McCaslin, 73, Jonathan Ferguson, 27, Carol McShane, 62, Ronald Marquart, 59.

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