Steve Urbon: Bristol DA is an environmental rock star
From The Standard Times
By Steve Urbon
Oct. 27, 2014
It’s been almost two months since Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter stood on the plaza at the Fall River Justice Center and declared that he stood by two defendants charged in a one-day blockade of a coal freighter in Mount Hope Bay in the spring of 2013, and would drop criminal charges.
As far as the crowd of about 700 in the Zeiterion Theatre Saturday was concerned, it might have been yesterday. After Sutter and one of the defendants, Jay O’Hara, finished their 20-minute keynote presentation of this unlikely saga, the crowd attending the Connecting for Change conference rose to its feet and gave the two a sustained standing ovation, cheers and all.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think this would happen,” with the news of his actions flying through the social media, he said.
Like it or not, Sutter became an environmental rock star not because he was famous (he is now), but for stepping up and saying what he, as a concerned non-scientist, really thinks about climate change and coal emissions of carbon dioxide.
“This is one of the greatest crises this planet has ever faced,” he told the gathering at the courthouse and the crowd at the Z.
Sutter has been in big demand from news outlets and television and radio talk shows. They’ve all called him, it seems, especially the left-learning web site the Huffington Post.
He’s talked to environmental groups around the state. He’s spoken at universities — in a few days he’ll be speaking at Harvard and also at MIT, he said.
He’s still a hot topic on social media, though his spokesman Greg Miliote said that the real peak was the two weeks following the court decision, where he was getting more than a million hits on Twitter every day.
In case you missed it or need a refresher, the story is that O’Hara and his friend Ken Ward used a small lobster boat, the Henry David T, to block a ship carrying 40,000 tons of Appalachian coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset in May of last year.
The seven-hour standoff ended with the boat being towed and the two men left to go home and wait for charges to be filed, which they were. Criminal conspiracy was the big one. Sutter, as if he didn’t have anything more pressing to do, must ponder whether the charges will stick. He concludes not only that they would not, but that the two men had it right about the need to take direct action against global warming, as Jay puts it.
“I think that catapulted this,” Sutter said after his Z talk, “was the speech.”
That day in court, Sutter felt the need to say something to the hundred or so environmentalists who had gathered in support of the two men in the boat. So after watching their news conference on the plaza from his office, Sutter went out, joined in, and issued his declaration that the protesters have it right about climate change. The news spread like wildfire.
He said his sister, who lives on the West Coast, is an activist for campaign finance reform and makes a lot of speeches. She ends then, Sutter said, by mentioning that Massachusetts DA who dropped the charges against the lobster boat that blocked the coal ship is her brother. Almost everyone, he said, has heard of it and there is always applause.
It is almost like the whole environmental movement was awaiting the arrival of someone who would stick his or her neck out on this issue. “It took a lot of guts to do what he did,” said former Dartmouth Selectman William Trimble.
Sue Bachtel of New Bedford said that Sutter is having to suffer some political flak for this, although Miliote said that the ratio is 90 percent approval.
Rich Minton of Belmont also heard Sutter speak, and also used the words “it took guts” to do what he did in an age where politicians are too afraid of the next election.
I asked Sutter what he’s going to do as an encore and he admitted he didn’t know. He has, in fact, taken out papers to run for Fall River mayor if the recall vote concerning incumbent Will Flanagan leads to that.
“I never said that district attorney would be the last stop,” said the rock star.