Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: AG says free Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot in Russian court. Photo by Anton Podgaiko/Russian Look/Zuma

BENNINGTON -- Bill Sorrell, who is running for another term as Vermont's attorney general, thinks Pussy Riot got screwed.

Pussy Riot is the 3-woman Russian punk band that a court last week sentenced to 2 years in prison after being found guilty of artistic expression inside Moscow's most sanctified Orthodox church.

Sorrell, Vermont's top cop since 1997, said Pussy Riot's stunt was nothing more than what Americans call "an exercise in 1st Amendment rights."

But don't mistake Sorrell, who faces a tough August 28 primary against T.J. Donovan. What Pussy Riot did, Sorrell said, is not the same free speech anti-abortion protesters express in Vermont when they try to prevent women from receiving reproductive services.

"Where I have come down hard," he said, "is abortion rights."

Back to Pussy Riot. Sorrell doubts an American equivalent would get a slap on the wrist -- "if that" -- by raging against President Obama in the Green Mountain State's most sanctified church unless the group kept causing a ruckus and the church asked authorities for help.

"If it's an isolated incident like that it would be nowhere near the criminal proceedings that we've seen in Russia, let alone a 2-year sentence which an outrage," Sorrell said.

Sorrell campaigned in Bennington on Sunday by walking in the Battle Day parade then came to Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery to give a video interview.

During the bullet-point Q&A he talked about:

* His '97 victory against big tobacco -- Vermont gets $25 million a year forever; $300 million to date

* Vermont's growing synthetic drug problem -- the state saw its first bath-salts death this summer -- and the quality-of-life crimes that come with it. He agrees with Democratic challenger T.J. Donovan's views that non-violent drug offenders need treatment not prison.

* Organized gangs from New York City pitching tents up in these hills

* The growing problem with Super-PAC influences on Vermont elections and policy.

And, Pussy Riot.

Sorrell said it would be interesting to see if Russia's popular movement rises against President Vladimir Putin, believed to be the person behind the court's prison sentence.

"I certainly hope that does happen," he said.