Section: CAPITAL REGION Page: D1 Date: Sunday, October 22, 2000
JUSTICE PEEKS FROM THE BLINDFOLDFRED LeBRUN
On Friday, an Albany jury of six once again found Eugene Burt guilty of something. He's been arrested about 20 times in Albany for a wide range of public disturbances and by his own account served about a year in jail, total, since the Big One. That was in 1985 when Burt admitted slashing modern art at the Empire State Plaza after a vision, and felt compelled to expose Ronald Reagan as the Antichrist. Psychiatrists concluded Eugene is a paranoid schizophrenic who rents space in his own reality, by the hour.
Eugene Burt, about to turn 40, a Roman Catholic African-American with a white, Jewish father, has been kicking around Albany since embracing martyrdom, shouting up a storm, and straining the patience of all within earshot. He is premiere among our unloveables. State workers and city residents will recognize him as the crackpot with a megaphone strolling the sidewalks, ranting and raving the most repugnant anti-Semitic rhetoric imaginable, or uttering frothy diatribes against Albany police. I'm certain over the years dozens if not hundreds of those treated to Eugene's bile have muttered under their breaths, ``somebody ought to lock up that creep.'' Well, Albany, rest easier, it's happening. Although I don't think any of us should feel good at how it's being done. Namely, a classic railroad job, with Eugene engineer to his own destruction. I'm told Albany's power structure has flat-out had enough of Eugene and his hate mongering. When he's up for sentencing before City Court Judge Steve Herrick on Nov. 10 over his latest conviction, word is Eugene will get the maximum, a year at the Albany penitentiary. While the public may well applaud, consider first the latest high crime and how the justice system set him up. Eugene was found guilty Friday of violating a bizarre section of the penal law that says you can't stand on a public street or sidewalk and shout or even hold signs referring to a trial in progress within 200 feet of the courthouse in question. The trial was the celebrated Diallo trial last February at the Albany County Courthouse. Eugene admitted Friday that he did mention Amadou Diallo during his boilerplate bullhorn rant on the day he was arrested, although mostly he was as usual haranguing against Albany police. The cute part is this: Albany Police set up the pens in Academy Park across from the courthouse where protesters were required to speak their minds and parade their signs. That's where Eugene did his thing as well. Most protesting against the police for the month-long trial were within 200 feet of that courthouse and could have been arrested. None were under this law, except Eugene. Those protesting in support of police, by contrast, many of them cops themselves, were oddly enough in a pen beyond 200 feet, says Eugene's lawyer. I heard a snatch of Eugene back in February, and I certainly heard many others while the trial was in progress. I can't say what Eugene uttered was any worse or even more inflammatory. They were just words, heartfelt but now forgotten, the stuff of history. And yet Eugene Burt, diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, is the only individual to be convicted of a crime stemming from the Diallo trial. The only one to serve jail time for it. So far, one day, but unless his attorney Randall Kehoe mounts a successful appeal, there are more to follow. If this doesn't reek of a railroad job and sing of selective enforcement, I don't know what does. Small comfort to Eugene when they slam the cell door on him is that he will have exalted company. In shackles beside him on one side will be one of our treasured principles, the right of free speech. On the other, that blindfolded lady with the scales of justice. Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453.