Tag Archive: The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI

What I Learned From Breaking the Law

The Raines family in Michigan, August 1969

In 1971, I helped burglarize an FBI office and leaked documents that exposed J. Edgar Hoover’s abuses of power. Here’s what that experience taught me.

From The Nation/ By John Raines

I have been asked to develop a set of reflections on the moral lessons I learned from breaking the law. Here is part of that story. In 1961 I was arrested and put in jail in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was a “freedom rider.” Then, ten years later, a group of us calling ourselves “The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI” broke into the Media, Pennsylvania office of the FBI, removed the files and released them to the news media. What did I learn from breaking the law? Here are five lessons I learned. I learned that:

1) Law is not to be trusted without interrogating its complicity with privilege and power.

2) Identity is morally problematic, especially if you get yourself born a white male of class privilege.

3) A nation that lets itself be governed by fear will become a poorly governed nation.

4) The arrogance of power contributes to its own demise when confronted by persistent resistance, and finally….

5) I learned that the anger called hope can overcome despair, create a community of resistance and build a future that seemed impossible.

Let me begin with the issue of law and criminality. It is my contention that breaking the law and committing a crime are not identical. Indeed, I would go further. I would claim that under certain circumstances not to break the law is a crime—a crime against justice. That is what I learned back in 1961 when being found guilty of “threatening a breach of the peace” when four of us—two blacks and two whites—sat down together in the “White” waiting room of the Trailways bus station in Little Rock. (more…)