In prosecutions against Inauguration Day protesters, the government contends some of the defendants’ union memberships qualify as evidence of a conspiracy to commit a crime.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged for the Inauguration Day protests in 2017. One of the demonstrations, an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march dubbed Disrupt J20, commenced in Logan Circle before heading out into the streets. Protesters marched in the streets carrying banners and signs, and chanting against Donald Trump. During the march, a handful protesters broke off from the main group and smashed the windows of a few store fronts, including a Starbucks.
Police, who monitored people involved in the protest for months before the demonstration, responded indiscriminately with stingball grenades and a deluge of pepper spray. Over 200 people were kettled, including protesters, journalists, legal observers, and street medics.
The first of nearly two-dozen trials over property allegedly damaged during the protests started in November last year, ending in sweeping acquittals for six defendants just before Christmas. After acquittals that month, the government dropped charges for all but 59 of the defendants.
The government’s communications to the press state the logic behind this decision: To focus on the “core group that we believe is most responsible.” Yet in all of the government’s proceedings in what is known as the “J20 trials,” Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff admitted she has already identified at least 12 individuals she thinks broke windows at the protest.
For the rest of the defendants, the government invoked Washington D.C.’s Riot Act, a law that was used against demonstrators who protested following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. The law has not been used against protesters in D.C. since those demonstrations.
So why do so many individuals still face trial?
Read more from me and Elizabeth King on Shadowproof.