Drop the Charges! First Round of J20 Inauguration Arrestees Go to Court this Week

by the Earth First! Newswire

On January 20th 2017 as hundreds of thousands of people descended on DC and took to the streets around the world to protest Trump’s inauguration, the DC police arbitrarily rounded up over 200 protestors in an illegal mass arrest. These protestors now face decades in prison on bogus felony charges for the crime of being in the vicinity of a few broken windows. This is a clear effort to crack down on dissent building off of an campaign of escalating charges against everyone from pipeline protestors to Black Lives Matter activists in the past few years. If the state is successful in prosecuting the J20 cases it will set a dangerous precedent for repressing dissent in this country.

Fortunately, there has been robust support and solidarity for the nearly 200 people still caught up in this mess, and aspects of the prosecution’s weak arguments are beginning to unravel. Just this week, as the first batch of J20 defendents are set to go to trial, it was announced that seven other defendants have had their felonies reduced to three misdemeanor charges. The outpouring of support is working, lets keep up the pressure.

Go to defendj20resistance.org to find out how you can support the defendants.

Here is the statement from the Defend J20 support group on recent developments:

Yesterday, the government, represented by AUSA Jennifer Kerkhoff, reduced the charges of seven J20 defendants set to go to trial on December 11 in DC. Six felony and two misdemeanor counts are now only three misdemeanor charges: conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot and one count of property destruction. Without explanation, Kerkhoff changed the charges for these defendants (and these defendants alone at the moment), reducing the total time they are facing from around 60 years to under 2.

This announcement indicates a positive development, but it is unclear how this will impact the case overall. It is welcome news that these seven defendants no longer face life-altering felonies, but the prosecution has not given any indication as to why these changes have come to this particular group. There has been no change in the charges of the 186 other defendants, particularly the group slated to begin trial this Wednesday, November 15th. They continue to face a maximum sentence of 60+ years in prison. As this blog entry is being posted, the N15 trial group is about to begin their final pre-trial hearing.

The three misdemeanors charged against these seven defendants does not change a chilling legal maneuver attempting to broadly define conspiracy and implement a problematic DC Riot Statute. The U.S. Attorney’s Office not only seeks to put hundreds on the line for a few acts of vandalism—they are also attempting to criminalize political organizing and attending a protest as conspiracy. The majority of the prosecution’s arguments in court for these first two trial blocks so far has been focused on developing a conspiracy theory based on clothing, texts and online activity. If they are successful in this effort, it will still set a legal basis for district courts nationwide to conduct similar dragnet prosecutions and target activists based on any perceived political affiliations or actions.

Most of the defendants continue to work in solidarity with each other and understand that this case is an act of political repression aimed at criminalizing resistance. From the overcharging to force plea agreements to the state’s effort to redefine basic acts of political organizing as conspiracy, this case intends to send a message that resistance of any kind will be met with aggressive prosecution.

We will continue to support each other through these charges and will not stop until every single charge is dropped or every trial ends in acquittal. J20 defendants need your support now more than ever. Stay tuned for more updates and ways to be in solidarity, particularly about the N15 trial group after their court hearing today.

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