U.S. Attorney’s Office persists with felony charges against 200 protesters & demands 60-year sentences per person:

Trump Inauguration Protesters
Oppose Felony Charges

About 200 protestors, journalists and legal observers who demonstrated at Trump’s inauguration are organizing to reject felony charges and the long prison terms that go with them. November 15 was the opening day of court for the first round of defendants, the second round is expected to begin December 11. The charges are being pursued even before an independent investigation into police misconduct on Inauguration Day is concluded. False arrest, including of these 200, are among the issues being investigated.

The protesters were rounded up en masse during the large demonstrations organized against Trump and the undemocratic elections more generally, with slogans such as Not Our President, Not Our Democracy. This particular group had temporarily separated from the larger demonstration. Police surrounded these demonstrators and blocked them from leaving — known as kettling — and then arrested all of them.

Commonly, demonstrators that are arrested are given individual misdemeanor charges, like disorderly conduct or refusal to disperse, which are often dismissed or carry a minimal fine. For this action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is persisting with blanket felony charges of urging a riot and conspiracy to riot against all 200, and demanding 60-year sentences for each person. It is the blanket felony charges and long prison terms that lawyers are calling unprecedented and clearly designed to stifle and criminalize dissent.

All 200 are also being held accountable for some broken windows, which many at the action think were done by police provocateurs, as has occurred many times in the past. The Washington Postreported back in April that DC police had actually infiltrated the group ahead of its planned January protest. It is the existence of broken windows that police are using to justify the mass arrest. They are not charging any specific person, but rather the entire group.

One January 20 defendant said, “Charges like these are intended to silence communities when the time comes for people to resist.” He continued, “How are people expected to be brave enough to resist when the consequences could be a lifetime of incarceration? Never mind the beatings from the police. These charges are intended to keep people afraid, indoors and obedient. And this case itself is intended to set the precedent for more of this.” Even so, he and the others are persisting in resisting and are being joined by many supporters at the court house and online.

The government has issued a huge metadata subpoena against DreamHost in August, the server that hosted the DisruptJ20 (Disrupt January 20) website. Cell phones of those arrested were seized and searched for their data. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the warrant seeking the website’s database records, had the possibility of implicating more than 1 million users, and would include the “IP addresses of over 1.3 million visitors to the site,” as federal prosecutors want the IP addresses of anyone who visited disruptj20.org. As well, the personal information of administrators and the thousands of individuals who interacted with the site are being demanded. “No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth,” said one lawyer opposing the subpoena.

Last month, Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the District of Columbia Superior Court, partly limited the warrant. However he allowed significant parts of it to stand. A lawyer for Public Citizen, also involved in challenging the subpoena, said, “The judge has decided to allow a search of emails from anonymous users (without their identifying information) even though the government never showed that it had a good reason to look at those emails.” He added, “The judge is denying Public Citizen and DreamHost the opportunity to explain why the government’s arguments for a search protocol or access to a particular record should be rejected.”

Police Guilty of Violent Repression

While demonstrators are being unjustly charged with conspiracy to riot — not an actual riot, just a conspiracy — the police are not being held accountable for their violence against protesters. The ACLU cited extensive use of the chemical weapon pepper spray, concussion grenades and stingers, including on people already detained, and holding people outdoors for excessive periods of time without access to food, water or bathrooms. The DC police deployed weapons on 191 occasions during the inauguration, including 74 sting-ball grenades (explosive ‘rubber-ball’ style grenades), firing six 40 mm Stinger rubber bullets, five foam batons, and one 40 mm Exact impact round. Even after protesters were captured in the kettling operation, body cam footage showed the police continued to fire tear gas at them. Tear gas is a chemical weapon outlawed for use in war.

The ACLU also filed a lawsuit in June accusing police of using sexual abuse as a form of punishment against four people arrested during the protests. At a press conference at that time, photojournalist Shay Horse who was detained explained that he was taken to a “training facility,” told to drop his pants and had his testicles “yanked on” and then the officer “stuck his finger up each of our anuses and wiggled it around.” Horse continued, “I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.”

The excessive charges and sentences are also a means to try and get some demonstrators to accept guilty pleas on lesser charges and/or testify against fellow demonstrators, so as to divide and demoralize those resisting.

A National Lawyers Guild member explained, “The novel part of this case is about charging everyone who was scooped up in the kettle with the conspiracy and all the blanket felonies in a very indiscriminate manner. That also coincides with the things that the prosecution has been doing against individuals who are named as defendants.” She added that about 95 per cent of criminal cases end in plea agreements, given that the odds are often stacked against defendants, who are coerced into taking plea agreements instead of gambling against a biased system. In this case the government is claiming that anybody who was indiscriminately scooped up that day is inherently guilty of that conspiracy and therefore culpable for all of the charges. She emphasized that most of the defendants are only connected to each other because of the prosecution and the mass arrest.

(Voice of Revolution, December 1, 2017. Photos: Unicorn Riot, J. Brusky)

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