On January 20, 2017, 230 people were mass arrested during demonstrations against Donald Trump's inauguration.
The arrests were made by the controversial -- and increasingly common — use of the "kettle" technique on the corners of 12th and L Streets, without any dispersal warnings. Defendants' cell phones were confiscated and searched, their homes were raided, and their social media data were seized. Some defendants also experienced sexual assault at the hands of DC police (MPD).
Of these initial arrestees, 215 were charged under the Federal Riot Statute. The prosecution's case rests on a dangerously broad interpretation of the Federal Riot Statute that, if successful, could make a participant in a political rally guilty for any property damage that takes place during that time. On April 27, 2017, multiple additional felony charges were added. One trial group was acquitted of all charges on November 15, 2017, and the Attorney's Office dismissed cases without prejudice against an additional 129 defendants on January 18, 2018 — but didn’t drop their charges, meaning they still face nearly 6 years of uncertainty since the prosecution can reinstate the charges during that time. But far worse, there are still 59 people who are being prosecuted with multiple felonies and face up to over 60 years in prison.
In some ways the US Attorney's Office is functioning as it always has. Attempts to crush dissent through scare tactics, such as trumped-up charges, is not new. Yet blanket charging hundreds of people with felonies and branding standard political organizing tactics as "criminal” borders on unprecedented behavior.
This case in many ways resembles a pattern of other politically motivated arrests around the country: those of the hundreds of water protectors facing charges in North Dakota; those arrested during actions against rulings on police violence in Saint Louis, Sacramento, and countless other cities; and thoseof antiracist protesters in Charlotesville.
The next J20 trial is on April 17, followed quickly by the start of another J20 trial group on April 23. It is vital for anyone who values dissent to be in solidarity with the defendents in politically motivated trials. Pack the courts, donate funds if you can, and spread the word about these trumped up charges.
We aren’t free until everyone is free!