We all remember the images from Trump’s Inauguration Day protests: the burning limo, broken windows, police spouting pepper spray from super-soaker-like riot gear.
Police rounded up over 200 protesters that day, just after the first few windows were broken, and indiscriminately charged them with felony rioting.
Nine of those arrested were journalists. One registered nurse on the scene, Britt Lawson, was there with a medical kit that included cough drops and tampons to help in case anyone was hurt during the protests.
Throughout 2017 and into 2018, the majority of protesters — each facing over 60 years in prison — will go to trial in small batches.
But Wednesday, in the ongoing trials against the #DisruptJ20 protesters — “J20” meaning Jan. 20, 2017 — the felony charge of inciting a riot was dropped for the first batch of six defendants, including Lawson and photojournalist Alexei Wood. While felony charges of property destruction as well as two misdemeanor charges still remain, the dropped felony in this trial could signal further dismissals of the potential near-life sentences currently faced by dozens of other protesters.
The volunteer legal support and other allies of the DisruptJ20 protesters worry that if the protesters are found guilty, it would set a dangerous precedent that by simply being in the vicinity of a protest where property damage occurs, you could be found guilty for causing that damage.
“When you start rounding up people who are vandalism-adjacent while they are exercising their First Amendment rights, that is going to send a message to what protesters are going to do next time,” Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview with Mic on Friday at the ACLU offices in Washington.
Michelman and the ACLU are bringing their own lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia for the force used against not just the DisruptJ20 defendants, but other peaceful protesters, dozens of whom were pepper-sprayed and subject to flash-bang grenades even as they stood chanting: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
“This is not a time in our country’s history that we want to be discouraging protests,” Michelman said.