by Rachel Swan
The threat of life imprisonment looms for Occupy Oakland activist Marcel Johnson - better known by his alias, Khali - after a third-strike arrest during the demonstration. Having spent about 15 years incarcerated already, 38 year-old Khali said he was trying to turn his life around by distributing food to the needy at the Occupy Oakland encampment, where he was a frequent, vocal, sometimes endearing presence. On December 16 he was arrested outside City Hall for violating anti-encroachment laws — namely, for a dispute about a blanket — which normally wouldn't have warranted more than a few hours jail time. Since Khali was in fact violating his probation terms for a different case in Sacramento, he was taken to Santa Rita and made to serve some jail time in lieu of going to trial, his attorney Dan Siegel explained. There, Khali was held in solitary confinement and not given his psychiatric medications, which might explain why he got into an altercation with a peace officer — the exact circumstances of which are still widely disputed. Now, Khali faces a felony assault charge in place of his original misdemeanor. As of Friday, December 23, Khali's bail was set at $580,000, according his attorney, Dan Siegel.
"So he's basically arrested for littering, and a week later he's facing felony charges," Siegel said, in an interview on December 23. Siegel isn't representing Khali in the assault case, but he helped persuade a judge to order a medical evaluation of Khali, in the hope that it will explain the altercation. Members of the "Free Khali Committee" at Occupy Oakland claimed that Khali received no evaluation or medication for ten days after his arrest, and that he showed evidence of physical abuse on December 22, when he appeared in court for arraignment on the original misdemeanor (it's now been dwarfed by the assault case). Khali's next court date is January 9th, 9 a.m., at the California Courthouse in Pleasanton. He now faces a potential third strike, and insurmountable bail. And if the Senior Deputy District Attorney Eileen McAndrew doesn't drop the assault charge, the future looks grim, Siegel said: "[Khali] is homeless. He has no money. He has no anything."