[Pnews] Anti-Trump protesters risk 60 years in jail. Is dissent a crime?
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 22 14:47:20 EST 2017
Anti-Trump protesters risk 60 years in jail. Is dissent a crime?
Yael Bromberg <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/yael-bromberg> and
Eirik Cheverud <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/eirik-cheverud> -
November 22, 2017
On the morning of President Trump’s inauguration, police trapped and
arrested more than 230 people.
were anti-Trump demonstrators; some were not. The next day, federal
prosecutors charged them all with “felony rioting”, a nonexistent crime
in Washington DC. The prosecution then launched a sweeping investigation
into the defendants’ lives, demanding vast amounts of online information
through secret warrants.
Prosecutors eventually dropped a few defendants,
journalists and legal observers, but simultaneously increased the
charges against everyone else. The most recent indictment collectively
charged more than 200 people with felony rioting, felony incitement to
riot, conspiracy to riot, and five property-damage crimes – all from
Each defendant is facing over 60 years in prison.
The prosecution next obtained warrants focused on anti-Trump organizers.
One sought a list
all visitors to a website that organizers used to promote Inauguration
Day protests. A second sought information on all Facebook friends and
related communications of two organizers, the host of a coalition
Facebook page, and those who simply “liked” that page.
Privacy advocates call warrant for IP addresses of 1.3 million people
who visited inauguration protest website an unconstitutional ‘fishing
Despite legal challenges, a court recently decided to enforce the
warrants, requiring only that personally identifiable information be
redacted for “irrelevant” material. This unprecedented prosecution
follows a drastic change in local law enforcement’s response to protest.
The DC Office of Police Complaints issued a report critical of the mass
arrest, noting the departure from standard operating procedure and the
likelihood that police lacked individualized probable cause to arrest
everyone. This is exactly the type of action new policies and statutes
enacted in DC were meant to avoid, following a 2002 mass arrest that
caused the District to pay over $10m in settlements.
Compare this crackdown with the government’s response to the
pre-planned, armed violence and rioting by white supremacists and
private militia groups in Charlottesville, Virginia.
There was no sweeping online dragnet to identify organizers who
conspired to plan, promote, and carry out violence in Charlottesville –
violence against people, not property.
Nor were all the participants in Charlottesville rounded up and charged
with felony conspiracy to commit rioting – or charged as accessories to
Heather Heyer’s murder. Instead, federal prosecutors have done little to
Online activists exposed the identities of a few white supremacists,
leading to charges from local law enforcement due to public pressure.
But there have been no felony rioting charges, no charges of
guilt-by-association, no police raids, no sweeping investigation.
Other riots have gone unchallenged by law enforcement. In 2006, Steelers
fans rioted after their team won the Super Bowl, causing over $150,000
in damage (by comparison, prosecutors allege the inauguration defendants
caused an estimated $100,000 of damage on 20 January – most of which was
attributable to a limousine fire that occurred after the mass arrest.)
Police charged some Steelers fans with individualized offenses, but no
riot charges. In 2015, University of Kentucky basketball fans rioted
after their team lost to Wisconsin; once again, some arrests, but no
How do prosecutors decide when to dust off the rioting statutes and whom
to charge? Apparently, the reasons for the alleged rioting are important.
Sports riots are “people letting off steam”. Riots by white supremacists
evidently occur with no criminal consequences. And why should law
enforcement behave differently? Neither scenario threatens the state
When people stand in opposition to the government, like the
demonstrators did on 20 January, the analysis changes; suddenly conduct
becomes “rioting”, deserving of a lifetime in prison.
This is classic content-based discrimination of freedom of speech and
assembly, and selective prosecution. The state cracks down when it
disapproves of the reasons why a riot occurs, but holds back when
rioters are not responding to state violence and oppression. Notably,
the first time prosecutors used the riot statutes in DC was to punish
protesters following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.
All this raises the questions – who gets to define “violence”, and what
of the permissibility of state-sanctioned violence? Does the state not
commit violence when it brutally attacks anti-Trump protesters and
arrests them without probable cause? Does the state not commit violence
by trying to put hundreds of people behind bars for decades? Does the
state not commit violence by failing to intervene against armed force
exacted by white supremacists? Does the state not commit violence when
it protects hate speech and punishes government critics?
Trials for the inauguration protesters begin mid-November and will
continue for a year. As media ramps up coverage, do not forget what
these trials are about – not rioting, not broken windows, but punishing
* Yael Bromberg is a supervising attorney and teaching fellow with the
Institute for Public Representation – Civil Rights Clinic, of
Georgetown University Law Center. She is also a member of the DC
Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild
* Eirik Cheverud is a local attorney and member of the DC Chapter of
the National Lawyers Guild
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews