Trump’s Crackdown on Dissent Begins: More Than 200 Inauguration Protesters Hit With Felony Charges

Protesters face up to 10 years in prison.

Sarah Lazare, AlterNet January 25, 2017

Police used pepper spray and other harsh measures against inauguration protesters. (Photo by Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images)

This post first appeared at AlterNet.

More than 200 people who were mass-arrested at the Washington, D.C. protests against the inauguration of Donald Trump have been hit with felony riot charges that are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

More than 200 peo­ple who were mass-arrest­ed at the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. protests against the inau­gu­ra­tion of Don­ald Trump have been hit with felony riot charges that are pun­ish­able by up to 10 years in prison. Those picked up in the sweep — includ­ing legal observers and jour­nal­ists — had their phones, cam­eras and oth­er per­son­al belong­ings con­fis­cat­ed as evi­dence, a lawyer con­firmed to AlterNet.

Demon­stra­tors warn that the crack­down sig­nals a new wave of repres­sion against the pro­test­ers, whose mass mobi­liza­tion was met with riot police vio­lence, Nation­al Guard and Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty deploy­ments, heavy sur­veil­lance and law enforce­ment snipers posi­tioned on rooftops.

These charges are absolute­ly hor­ri­fy­ing. They are just try­ing to stop any resis­tance to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion,” Saman­tha Miller, an orga­niz­er with the Dis­rupt J20 Col­lec­tive, told Alter­Net. Many of these demon­stra­tors were show­ing rage and fear of what’s com­ing. It’s going to take a lot more than ask­ing nice­ly to cre­ate change and stop the threats from the Trump administration.”

The vast major­i­ty of the rough­ly 230 peo­ple who were ket­tled and mass-arrest­ed at the anti-cap­i­tal­ist bloc dur­ing Friday’s protests have been charged under the felony riot act, said Mark Gold­stone, a Nation­al Lawyers Guild-affil­i­at­ed attor­ney who has defend­ed pro­test­ers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. for more than 30 years. Wash­ing­ton, D.C. author­i­ties put this num­ber at 217. Gold­stone con­firmed to Alter­Net that legal observers and jour­nal­ists were among those detained in the sweep, explain­ing that, through­out his career in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., he has nev­er seen mass charges of this kind.

Jef­frey Light, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based lawyer who pro­vid­ed legal sup­port to the Dis­rupt J20 Col­lec­tive, agreed with this assess­ment. I have been rep­re­sent­ing pro­test­ers for 13 years now, and I have nev­er seen felony riot­ing charges in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It is not one of the stan­dard laws that they tend to use. This is unusu­al. It is rare to use that charge.”

Across the board, all phones and cam­eras are being held as evi­dence, and they are also detain­ing gloves and cell phone charg­ers as evi­dence,” said Light. They are giv­ing peo­ple their wal­lets back gen­er­al­ly, but that’s it. It is extreme­ly troubling.”

Accord­ing to a class-action law­suit filed by Light on Fri­day, those picked up in the sweep and hit with felony riot charges already endured abuse at the hands of the police. Our class action law­suit charges that the police were round­ing up every­one on the street with­out warn­ing and putting them under arrest and using exces­sive force,” said Light. There were a num­ber of weapons we haven’t seen Wash­ing­ton, D.C. police use in recent mem­o­ry, flash bang grenades and tear gas. In addi­tion to chem­i­cal irri­tants, they were assault­ing peo­ple with batons. They were beat­ing people.”

Those ket­tled by police were forced to wait for hours in the street and on school bus­es, many of them going untreat­ed for injuries, say sup­port­ers. They are try­ing to set a tone to chill fur­ther demos of this nature, and I don’t think it’s going to work,” Bob Hayes, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. res­i­dent who is help­ing coor­di­nate legal sup­port, told Alter­Net. They are try­ing to put pres­sure on indi­vid­u­als to col­lab­o­rate with the investigations.”

Light empha­sized that, while the riot felony charges are new, the mass arrests are not. Act­ing D.C. Police Chief Peter New­sham, who over­saw this weekend’s crack­down, was the assis­tant police chief who presided over anoth­er mass arrest more than a decade ago. In the fall of 2002, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan police depart­ment mass arrest­ed hun­dreds of peo­ple at a World Bank protest in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s Per­sh­ing Park and hogtied them for up to 24 hours while in deten­tion, before drop­ping all charges. In a 2015 set­tle­ment, the city was forced to pay $2.2 mil­lion to near­ly 400 protesters.

New­sham, who ordered the mass arrests in 2002, over­saw the police crack­down against inau­gu­ra­tion protesters.

Friday’s crack­down came as mass protests erupt­ed across Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and the world, over­shad­ow­ing the inau­gu­ra­tion of Don­ald Trump, who rose to pow­er on a tide of white nation­al­ism and fas­cism. On Fri­day morn­ing, social move­ments includ­ing the Move­ment for Black Lives and groups cen­ter­ing Mus­lim, Jew­ish and immi­grant resis­tance, con­verged at 14 dif­fer­ent secu­ri­ty” check­points, to shut down, slow and dis­rupt the pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion of Don­ald Trump. We stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty with every­one who chal­lenges oppres­sion in all of its forms, every­where around the world, in favor of dig­ni­ty, self-deter­mi­na­tion, and defend­ing our col­lec­tive well-being,” reads a state­ment from the anti-cap­i­tal­ist, anti-fas­cist bloc cir­cu­lat­ed ahead of Fri­day’s protests.

Those arrest­ed in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. faced an out­pour­ing of pub­lic sup­port. Ryan Har­vey, an activist and musi­cian with Fire­brand Records, told Alter­Net that hun­dreds gath­ered out­side [where pro­test­ers were held] Sat­ur­day to show their sup­port for those being released. Every time peo­ple came out, the crowd would cheer and chant,” with the term ant­i­cap­i­tal­ista” an oft-repeat­ed refrain. For many, it was like a sur­prise birth­day par­ty, and their faces lit up. Street medics were on-scene, and many sup­port­ers brought food, clothes, cof­fee, tea and water.”

Har­vey empha­sized that the sup­port is impor­tant because it defends the rights of these peo­ple to fight against fas­cism” and com­bats the nar­ra­tive that there is some­thing more prob­lem­at­ic about their protest than there is about the inauguration.”

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. res­i­dents say that the state vio­lence on dis­play this week­end extends far beyond the indi­vid­u­als hit with felony riot charges.

A moth­er car­ry­ing her tod­dler was pep­per sprayed in the face,” said Miller. An elder from Stand­ing Rock was sprayed in her face. A woman with crutch­es tried to inter­vene, and she was sprayed.”

We faced the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, the Nation­al Guard, riot police, sur­veil­lance, snipers on rooftops, and Trump sup­port­ers,” Darak­shan Raja, founder of the Mus­lim Amer­i­can Women’s Pol­i­cy Forum and co-direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Peace Cen­ter, told Alter­Net. Just to walk around and see that, have them watch you as a target.”

For weeks, the alt right’ has been attack­ing us,” Raja con­tin­ued. They have sent death threats to the pro­test­ers of J20, attacked our orga­ni­za­tions, report­ed us for false things to the city gov­ern­ment, harassed all our part­ners, includ­ing the spaces we are housed. Their vio­lence against us can’t be lost in this moment.”

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor for In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Nation, Tom Dis­patch, YES! Mag­a­zine, The Inter­cept and Al Jazeera Amer­i­ca. A for­mer staff writer for Alter­Net and Com­mon Dreams, Sarah coedit­ed the book About Face: Mil­i­tary Resisters Turn Against War. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sarahlazare.
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