On January 20, 2017, while Trump was being sworn in as president, police trapped over 200 protesters, medics, legal observers, and journalists on a block in downtown Washington, DC and mass-arrested all of them. Police confiscated their cell phones and broke into them, seized their social media data, even raided their homes. In April, the US Attorney’s Office pressed the same 8 felony charges indiscriminately against all the arrestees. Today, 193 defendants are facing six decades in prison just for attending a protest.
The Trump administration wants to set a precedent so they can argue that anyone wearing black in vicinity of a broken window is participating in a conspiracy and deserves to spend the rest of his or her life in prison.
Their goal is to criminalize protest itself. The prosecution has based their case on claiming that basic elements of large protests are evidence of a “conspiracy to riot” and commit acts of vandalism. As evidence, they are citing normal protest activities such preparing for the possibility of arrest, the presence of street medics and legal observers in case of police or fascist violence, and even sharing information about public plans to assemble. The outcome of this case could have disastrous consequences on all dissent in the United States.
1. Spread the Word
2. Combat Police and Media Lies about the Case
Police and media outlets have dishonestly represented the J20 case from the beginning, in hopes of concealing this assault on the right to protest. For example, on at least two occasions, Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Peter Newsham inaccurately claimed that the people he ordered mass-arrested had started the limousine fire on Inauguration Day. This is flagrantly and intentionally dishonest. The limousine was set on fire several hours after the hundreds of defendants facing charges were kettled and detained by MPD.
Unfortunately, some lazy journalists have parroted Newsham’s lies. In addition, influential media outlets including USA Today, Buzzfeed, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the BBC have used images of the limousine fire to illustrate articles about the defendants’ cases, effectively identifying the defendants with the fire in the minds of potential jurors. In November, USA Today spread false information that the fire was burning at 10:30 am, although the fire took place late in the afternoon.
3. Speak up against the Charges
The inauguration defendants aren’t an isolated case. The broad use of conspiracy allegations will have a massive impact on all movements for social justice. The government hopes to set a precedent they can use to threaten anyone with life-altering felony charges and prison time on the basis of political affiliations. If the prosecution wins by turning ordinary aspects of protest organizing into evidence of “conspiracy,” this will stifle dissent of all kinds.
Trump came to power by denying the rights and humanity of Mexicans, Muslims, the LGBTQI community, and people of color while promising to intensify policing. He refuses to denounce avowed neo-Nazis even when they murder anti-racist protesters, yet he has made sure that the J20 defendants face the very worst that the law can deliver. His first day in office coincided with an immediate crackdown on political dissent not seen for decades.
If you are a part of an organization, please publish a solidarity statement expressing support for the defendants. Now is the time for prominent activists and social justice figures to speak out. You can find an example of a solidarity statement here from the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Write your own!
You can also sign a petition demanding that the charges be dismissed.
4. Donate to the Legal Defense Fund
193 people have bravely committed to taking these unjust charges to trial. Many are based outside of Washington, DC yet are forced to travel for regular hearings. Their cases have been divided into nearly 20 different trials lasting through the end of 2018.
Each trial could last for weeks. During this time, the defendants will not be able to work, while needing to pay for housing, food, and transportation in DC. $250,000 is a conservative estimate of the total costs facing those who are standing up for their right to protest. Your financial contribution is one way to show that you see this legal battle as an important milestone in the fight for a better world.
5. Organize a Solidarity Rally
Bring your community together to make your support visible to the prosecution and potential members of the jury. If you’ve never organized a protest before, learn how here and visit the Defend J20 website for material you can use to raise awareness.
6. Offer Emotional Support
If you know people who are being charged in this case, support them. Keep abreast of their court dates and when they will go to trial. Make sure they have whatever resources and emotional care they need. Explain the importance of this issue to others in your life and the public at large.
Getting the charges dropped against the J20 defendants isn’t just about the specific individuals facing trials. It’s an opportunity to rally our communities to take action, stay strong in the face of state repression, and work to build a better future.
7. If You Live in DC…
Help build the local visibility of this case. We need people to show up at court and support the J20 defendants.
For more information, updates, and background on the case, visit defendj20resistance.org.
For More Information
For more perspective on the alternative to the Trump regime and the forms of oppression it defends, try To Change Everything: An Anarchist Appeal.