[Pnews] Kettling Free Speech (or Why Unicorn Riot Has It All Over the NYT)

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 5 12:59:14 EST 2018


  Kettling Free Speech (or Why Unicorn Riot Has It All Over the NYT)

by Susie Day - January 5, 2018

Does anybody have enough strength left to pop a cork in celebration that 
we’ve made it through Trump’s first year in office? I don’t. There is 
stuff to celebrate, such as the December 21 jury-trial acquittal of six 
of the 194 defendants facing decades in prison for protesting at Trump’s 
inauguration last January. But this remains a bellwether case, a sign 
that the judicial climate change begun by past administrations may well 
become unstoppable under Donald Trump. To the degree that the mainstream 
media have all but ignored it – which is large – this case bears watching.

J20, as it’s come to be known, resulted from the efforts, begun July 
2016, of DisruptJ20, a group organizing an “anti-capitalist, 
anti-fascist” inauguration-day “Festival of Resistance.” There were 
other protests in Washington, D.C. on January 20 not organized by this 
group, but J20 was largely black bloc.

Black bloc is not a group; it’s a largely anarchist tactic by which 
protesters dress in black and protest anonymously, often covering their 
faces. It was a black bloc protestor during the J20 protest who 
delivered the salutary – and meme-worthy – punch to white supremacist 
Richard Spencer, preempting Spencer’s explanation to Australian media of 
the political significance of Pepe the Frog.

Thousands of protesters attended Trump’s inauguration, some dressed in 
black. While most marched down 13th Street, a few broke away to hurl 
rocks and bottles at police officers, set vehicles on fire, and throw 
“Make America Great Again” baseball caps into burning garbage cans, 
while others smashed windows of capitalist bulwarks like Bank of America 
and McDonalds. Damage is estimated at over $100,000 – a pittance, 
compared to the damage that Trump’s recent $1.3 trillion tax cut will 
likely wreak on the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the response of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to 
the “riot” was hardly peacekeeping. As observably nonviolent 
participants reached 13th and K, police suddenly – without warnings or 
dispersal orders – launched gallons of pepper spray, using hand-held 
canisters and newfangled MK-46 dispensers, called “Super Soakers.” Cops 
also fired rubber bullets and “Sting Ball” grenades that eject hard 
rubber balls into a radius of protesters. Police body cams at trial 
showed several instances of cops pushing protesters to the ground from 
behind with riot batons.

Cops pepper-sprayed protesters even after large numbers had been 
“kettled” – herded into an enclosed space from which people could not 
move. Among other allegations, an ACLU lawsuit charges the MPD with 
unconstitutional arrests at J20, excessive force, denying kettled 
protesters food, water, and access to toilets for hours, and carrying 
out forced rectal searches.

Over 230 people were arrested; 194 charged with felony rioting, which 
can mean up to ten years in prison. Although about 20 defendants agreed 
to plea deals, 130 signed a “points of unity” agreement, pledging to 
refuse plea bargains that could hurt other defendants, to share 
information and resources, and generally to “stand together.” This 
likely served them well when, in April, the DC Superior Court handed 
down superseding charges, adding eight more felonies including inciting 
to riot, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction. Remaining 
defendants now face sentences exceeding 70 years.

Why J20 compels attention: The prosecution in the recent trial 
acknowledged that none of the six defendants participated in property 
destruction. Also, the fact that few, if any, of the 188 defendants 
awaiting trial can be shown to have acted “violently” may not legally 

Certainly, there have been larger mass arrests and greater police 
brutality, but J20 charges present an open and egregious threat to First 
Amendment rights. If the prosecution succeeds in the next volley of 
trials, federal courts can sentence anyone to decades in prison, merely 
for attending a protest where a law is broken. Simple acts like yelling, 
“Stay together,” or wearing clothes supporting a protest message could 
be “reasonable” proof of conspiracy charges.

At a time when Trump is already packing the courts with unqualified, 
conservative judges, J20 demonstrates increasingly reactionary 
interpretations of law. Although DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Liebovitz 
reduced two felony charges of the six defendants to misdemeanors – 
cutting their possible sentences from 60 to 50 years — she also declared 
that journalists filming and describing the protest, as defendant Alexie 
Wood did, were aiding and abetting “the riot.” Judge Liebovitz also 
stated that street medics (one defendant was a nurse) could be aiders 
and abettors if they assisted an injured “rioter.”

There’s no room here to fully explore the use of cyber-surveillance in 
obtaining evidence, or the encroaching presence of the far right in J20 
police and trial procedure. But you should at least know that video 
footage of a DisruptJ20 planning meeting, secretly shot by an informant 
from Project Veritas (the group recently exposed for trying to discredit 
the /Washington Post/ with a fake sexual-assault story) was used by the 
prosecution as evidence – even after the government admitted to editing 
it. Then there was the discipline record, revealed by the defense, of 
MPD Commander Keith Deville. It was Deville – written up for joking 
about the Holocaust and making anti-trans and anti-queer remarks – who 
ordered and supervised the riot-police assault on protesters.

The six J20 defendants were acquitted because their trial luckily 
retained some meager remnants of reason. As court adjourned, a juror 
explained the verdict: “The prosecution admitted, day one, that they 
would present no evidence that any of the defendants committed any acts 
of violence or vandalism. From that point … it was clear … we would find 
everyone not guilty.”

But even if every single defendant of the remaining 188 is acquitted 
over the next year, charges like those embedded in J20 can effectively 
intimidate anyone from going to an anti-government protest. They also 
point to the growing infatuation of the Trump administration with rulers 
like Erdoğan and Putin who deploy similar, usually worse, punishments 
for dissent.

In closing, three things:

1. Solidarity matters: between movements (keep up with Standing Rock, 
Black Lives Matter) and within cases (don’t separate “good”/nonviolent 
from “bad”/violent defendants).

2. Never stop valuing independent media. Virtually no mainstream outlet 
reported J20 thoroughly. /The New York Times,/ instead of covering the 
trial, ran a Style section article, “What to Wear to Smash the State.” 
Whereas, a host of mostly independent outlets, including /Unicorn Riot/, 
/The Intercept/, /In These Times/, /The Nation/, /Democracy Now!/, the 
podcast /It’s Going Down/, were timely and essential.

3.  Happy New Year. Six down, 188 to go. Let’s keep in touch.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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