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Ex-student defends RNC involvement

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Yusuke "Josh" Banno defended his innocence at a press conference yesterday at Himmel Park. The former UA student was arrested in New York for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
By Kris Cabulong
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
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A former UA student arrested in New York while protesting the Republican National Convention publicly defended his innocence during a press conference yesterday at Himmel Park.

Yusuke "Josh" Banno was arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer after a 20-foot-long papier-mâché dragon was set on fire during a protest of the Republican National Convention last month in New York City.

"The story the DA was saying (at Banno's arraignment) was complete fiction," said Walt Staton, fellow protester and former Wildcat reporter.

Staton said that he and Banno were taking part in a Don't Just Vote march, and were using the dragon as a point of reference in the tumultuous crowd. Their group had nothing to do with making, parading or setting fire to the dragon, Staton said.

The prosecution's case rests on the testimony of two police officers, said Banno, who was released Sept. 3 on $10,000 bail.

"You can tell (the prosecution is) scraping the bottom of the barrel," Banno, also a former Wildcat employee, said. "They're having less to work with as the case keeps progressing. They have no evidence, no pictures, and I didn't even know the people I was arrested with," he said.

Banno said that after he was arrested, he was taken to Pier 57, a detention center for most of the 1,200 protesters arrested that day.

"We called it 'Guantanamo North,'" Banno said.

Banno was held there for nine hours in what he described as a crate with orange metal bars reaching 30 feet high and topped with coiled razor wire.

"The media's been trying to pin anarchists with a bad rep," Banno said. "Anarchy isn't about chaos, destruction or malice. It's about helping the community in the face of an ineffectual two-party government."

Banno said that the point of the Don't Just Vote march was to advocate proactive community involvement in lieu of merely voting.

"The protest wasn't about Democrats versus Republicans. They're both supporting the war, they push the same economics, they're both ... thriving off the backs of the hungry and the homeless," Banno said.

Banno, a sustainable community development major at Prescott College, has helped feed Tucson's homeless for a number of years with Food Not Bombs, an organization that serves meals to the homeless and protests war, according to its Web site.

While still a student at the UA, Banno took part in community development programs in Mexico as part of the Alternative Breaks program.

The situation has been difficult for Banno's family, said Betty Banno, Josh Banno's mother.

When she heard of the $200,000 bail set for Banno's original charge of first-degree assault, she talked to her son about selling her home, Josh Banno said. "I would never have wanted this put on them," Josh Banno said.

Food Not Bombs has raised "a couple thousand dollars" to help pay back Josh Banno's mother, who paid the reduced $10,000 bail, as well as to help cover legal fees and travel expenses, said Staton.

Josh Banno said he did not want to be associated with the fire in New York.

"I'm afraid of being scapegoated, for being pinned for something I'm not," Josh Banno said. "I'm not going down for something I didn't do."

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