Hundreds of Americans persecuted for anti-Trump protests

This video from the USA says about itself:

#J20 Activists & Journalists Still Facing Decades In Jail

3 July 2017

On January 20th over 230 demonstrators, most of them peaceful, we kettled by police for up to 16 hours before being arrested for protesting Trump’s inauguration. Cut to present day, many are facing multiple felony charges, which hold draconian punishments. This unconstitutional crackdown on free speech and protest is a chilling trend that is spreading all over the country.

Police are indiscriminately pepper spraying people and using tear gas, concussion grenades, and more. And on January 20th they didn’t differentiate between the few protesters partaking in property damage and the vast majority that were exercising their 1st amendment protected right to make their voice heard. Redacted Tonight correspondent John F. O’Donnell files this report.

By E.P. Milligan in the USA:

First round of trials begin for 194 charged in anti-Trump inauguration day protests

20 November 2017

Opening statements are expected to be heard today in the first round of trials for the 194 protestors who face state reprisal for their participation in an alleged riot that took place on January 20 during demonstrations to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The incident which sparked the police crackdown occurred when a small group of individuals smashed a series of windows and set a limousine on fire. Prosecutors allege a group called Disrupt J20 organized the protest and carried out the vandalism, describing rioters who used “black bloc” tactics such as wearing all black and masking their faces.

Soon after the disruption, the police surrounded and “kettled” a group of hundreds of protestors in the area, eventually arresting 230 people.

A report from the Washington, D.C. Office of Police Complaints detailed indiscriminate mass arrests and the use of nonlethal weapons without proper warning. Police fired upon the crowd with chemical agents, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stinger grenades. Protesters also claim the police sexually assaulted multiple detainees.

Prosecutors initially charged 214 people with “felony rioting,” a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. In April, a grand jury issued additional charges. So far, 20 have plead guilty. The remaining 194 awaiting trial face as much as up to 70 years in prison.

Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff is pressuring the court to issue the maximum sentence to all 194 defendants—even ones who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. “A person can be convicted of rioting without breaking a window,” Kerkhoff claimed at a hearing in July. “It is the group who is the danger, the group who is providing the elements.”

The prosecution has already begun looking into a Facebook page used to discuss plans for the protest and profiles associated with Disrupt J20, potentially revealing information about thousands of people who expressed anti-Trump sentiments to the federal government.

The character of the trials so far and the severity of the charges make clear that the entire case is a frame-up aimed at intimidating protestors and silencing dissent.

The court is doing all it can to stack the jury against the accused. During jury selection last week for the first six trials DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz explicitly asked prospective jurors about their views on the president.

Multiple potential jurors were immediately removed from the selection pool when they voiced sympathy for the protestors, as was a woman who claimed she did not intend to “give greater weight” to police testimony. At the same time, a contractor who designs websites for one of the vandalized banks remained under consideration for inclusion. Astonishingly, a man whose brother was involved in coordinating the Coast Guard’s participation in President Trump’s inauguration day proceedings and had spent a decade as a DC police officer was also not excused.

The first round of trials will involve six defendants who have been charged with felony rioting though in many cases there is no real connection between the individuals charged and those that actually carried out acts of vandalism. Trials are scheduled to take place in small groups through all of 2018.

The first six to be tried are Jennifer Armento, 38, of Philadelphia; Michelle Macchio, 26, of Asheville, North Carolina; Oliver Harris, 28, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Brittne Lawson, 27, of Aspinwall, Pennsylvania; Christina Simmons, 20, of Cockeysville, Maryland; and Alexei Wood, 27, of San Antonio, Texas.

The viciousness with which that state is pursuing Alexei Wood, a photojournalist and videographer, underscores the contempt with which the ruling class views the freedom of the press and the anti-democratic character of the trials. Wood faces up to 61 years in prison having been charged with felony rioting and the destruction of property.

Wood had posted a video of the demonstration to social media. Despite the fact that the video was clearly shot from the point of view of an onlooker and not an active participant in any of the acts of vandalism, DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Lebovitz has decided that his commentary on the video is tantamount to “statements of conspiracy.”

According to NPR, Wood’s offending statements occurred when he made a series of enthusiastic but nevertheless vague exclamations such as “Woo!” at various intervals throughout the video.

The fact that Leibovitz has been selected to preside over the trials is itself politically significant. She has been routinely hailed in the mainstream press as “DC’s toughest judge,” having been described by one defense attorney as “smart and relentless.” The former prosecutor was tapped by President George W. Bush in 2001 to preside over the DC Superior Court.

In 2005, Leibovitz sentenced an 18-year-old to one month in prison for graffiti tagging. She denied his lawyer’s requests to send him to a halfway house, replying, “I want him to see what the inside of the DC jail looks like.”

Leibovitz also sentenced a 78-year-old antiwar activist to 25 days in prison in 2010 after the woman had disrupted a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing in protest over the criminal imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adding insult to cruelty, she said the woman’s activities “demeaned the action of protest.”

In January of last year, evidence came to light that connected the Canadian section of the “Black Bloc” to the Montreal Police Department which used agent-provocateurs to break up a demonstration against police violence and the austerity policies of the Quebec Liberal government.

During the night in question, a university student recognized a “Black Bloc” member as a police officer when he briefly removed his mask. The officer had arrested her at a previous protest.

When confronted by protestors, the police agent and his partners beat up the protestors and arrested one, while the agent in question pulled a gun on the protestors. The Quebec government vehemently defended the officers’ violent actions, with police spokesman Ian Lafrenière claiming the officers had feared for their lives.

Documents released in 2011 revealed that 12 undercover police agents had spied on and infiltrated protest groups planning to participate in demonstrations against world leaders at the June 2010 G-20 summit meeting in Toronto.

In 2014, an undercover police officer pulled a gun on protesters in Berkeley, California in the wake of the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Protestors claimed undercover police officers were attempting to instigate looting and had been “banging on windows.”

This video from the USA says about itself:

27 June 2017

Volunteer organizers from Dead City Legal Posse, an organization founded to provide legal aid to more than 200 people police arrested during President Trump’s inauguration in January, joined anti-fascist demonstrators in front of the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Washington, DC to voice frustrations over the police crackdown on protesters on January 20th.

Attorneys working on behalf of the arrested filed for a motion to dismiss the case that will be heard on July 27th. Video by Henry Klapper.

By Ryan J. Reilly and Christopher Mathias in the USA today:

An American Journalist Is Facing A Felony Trial This Week — In The United States

A photojournalist facing a criminal trial on several felony charges sounds like something that would happen in another country. So this article is written in the style that would be used if it did.

Editor’s note: Taking a cue from Slate, this article describes an American news story — the virtually unprecedented prosecution of nearly 200 protesters on felony charges — using language the American media typically reserves for news stories written about more repressive countries. Felony charges against American journalists are jarring. Our approach to this story is meant to be as well.

WASHINGTON — An American photojournalist swept up in a mass arrest of hundreds of demonstrators conducted by security forces in the nation’s capital earlier this year during a protest of a regime change ceremony will face a criminal trial here Monday.

Alexei Wood, a 37-year-old freelance photojournalist based in the American southwest, has been charged with multiple felonies. If found guilty, he could face decades inside a mammoth prison system in the world’s most incarcerated nation.

Wood was one of more than 200 citizens captured en masse by police forces quelling demonstrations held at the same time as President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The continued prosecution of Wood and nearly 200 protesters has raised alarm among many who worry it will have a chilling effect on dissent in America, a country that holds itself up as a beacon of free speech and political expression. …

The protests have been referred to as the “J20″ protests, short for the date. The demonstrations were organized by a group called DisruptJ20, whose website had been subject to search warrants that critics called a fishing expedition. …

the Metropolitan Police Department responded to the demonstrations with significant force. They threw stinger grenades, fired pepper balls and sprayed chemical agents that are banned in warfare.

Following the lead of police, prosecutors also responded aggressively, moving to charge protesters using a rarely invoked riot act, which holds members of an entire group responsible for the actions of a few. Wood is now among nearly 200 defendants who, if convicted on charges of rioting, conspiracy to riot, inciting others to riot, and multiple acts of property destruction, could potentially each be sentenced to over 60 years in prison.

Though such extreme sentences are unlikely, human rights observers point to the aggressive prosecution of those rounded up during the demonstration as yet another excess of the American criminal justice system, which has come under increased scrutiny in recent years especially in regard to its treatment of ethnic minorities.

Wood and five co-defendants will be the first of those arrested during the protests to go on trial, with the remainder of the cases scheduled in the coming months. The trials will pit two groups routinely demonized by Trump ― journalists and protesters ― against security forces the American “law and order” president has sought to embolden both through his rhetoric and through official government policy.

Over the past year, prosecutors cracked into at least eight of the cellphones confiscated from defendants, extracting some of their internet histories, communications and pictures to be used as evidence in court.

In April, security forces with judicial branch approval broke into the D.C. home of one protest organizer ― a tactic more commonly associated with investigations of drug rings and criminal enterprises ― seizing thousands of dollars worth of personal property, including computers, cellphones and art supplies.

Media advocates and civil rights groups are particularly alarmed by the continued pursuit of severe felony charges against Wood, an eccentric photographer and videographer who has described his beat as “resistance cultures and conflicts” and has covered political unrest and sectarian violence across the country. Prosecutors had dropped charges against seven other journalists arrested that day, most of whom had connections to established media outlets. But the charges against two freelance journalists, Wood and Aaron Cantú, remain. …

The United States generally has a better track record on press freedom than most other countries. But arrests of journalists across the nation have seemingly been more common in recent years, with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker logging 31 arrests of journalists in 2017 alone.

Just over three years ago, for example, one of the authors of this story was arrested by local police inside one of the country’s ubiquitous McDonald’s restaurants in the American Midwest, where he’d been covering demonstrations that broke out after a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old ethnic minority. The demonstrators were protesting the suburban security force accused of rampant discrimination and corruption.

Law enforcement isn’t the only threat, as journalists have also been targeted and subject to harassment at political rallies and demonstrations. Earlier this year, a politician from the American West body-slammed a reporter from The Guardian, shattering his glasses. …

Trump has been particularly vocal in his condemnation of  journalists, calling them “enemies of the American people.” His top law enforcement official, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a conservative from the American South, has declined to rule out jailing journalists and greatly expanded the number of federal investigations into leaks to the news media.

Earlier this year, prosecutors even secured the conviction of a woman who laughed during Sessions’ appearance before the country’s legislative branch, though authorities declined to put her on trial yet again when a member of the judicial branch tossed out the conviction based on the government’s misconduct.

Trump’s response to protests has skewed authoritarian over the past two years. As a presidential candidate, he routinely called on his supporters to engage in violence against anybody disrupting his rallies. But after a resurgent neo-Nazi and white supremacist movement held a pro-Trump rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, which culminated in a neo-Nazi driving his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman, Trump was slow to condemn his supporters, eventually blaming the violence there on “both sides”.

Wood’s trial Monday will be held before District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who was appointed by the second president in the conservative Bush political dynasty …

She once sentenced a 79-year-old demonstrator who’d been arrested multiple times to 25 days in jail, and she thus far has denied defense motions to dismiss cases against the defendants who argued the capital city’s rioting laws were too broadly written. …

Even if jurors don’t convict Woods on any charges, the journalist said the prosecution has already taken a serious toll on him.

“Getting arrested was traumatic. The pepper spray was traumatic. Honestly the whole experience was traumatic,” he said. “The machinery and the inhumanity of pretty much every single bit of it.” …

This security force’s response to the Jan. 20 protests is currently being investigated by local authorities in Washington. The heavily armed police that day never warned protesters they could face arrest if they didn’t disperse, as is required by the department’s own policies. Instead, they surrounded the protesters, an aggressive policing technique known as “kettling,” often used at protests over the police killings of unarmed African-Americans. A recent “kettling” incident in the Midwest city of St. Louis swept up several journalists, and a member of the judicial branch found that the aggressive security force tactics there had likely violated the bedrock principles of American democracy.

In Washington, protesters were trapped and deprived of food, water and bathroom access for hours before eventually being detained and arrested. The zip ties used to bind their wrists dug into their flesh, causing them to bleed. And for weeks after, some said their skin peeled from the pepper spray with which security forces had sprayed them.

Journalist Shay Horse alleged in a lawsuit here that he and four protesters were subjected to cavity searches during their detention that could be considered sexual assault. The five men were forced to take off their pants, Horse said. An officer then grabbed the testicles of the five men, Horse alleges, before sticking a finger in each of their rectums, as other officers laughed.

Horse said in a press conference earlier this year that it felt like police “were using molestation and rape as punishment.”

Although the city has since launched an independent investigation into how the protest was policed, few of the defendants have hope for real accountability. The organization hired by the city to conduct the investigation is a decidedly pro-police organization called the Police Foundation.

Still, a dissident named Kris Hermes told HuffPost, “If the investigation proves that people were unfairly arrested, what does that mean for people that have already been tried?”

Hermes is a longtime legal activist affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, which has been working with the defendants in this case. He’s worried the charges against the defendants in this case are part of a government effort to crack down on protests.

“I think it’s already sent a chilling message,” Hermes said. “If all it’s gonna take is people going on the streets and being near some property destruction or near people engaged in alleged criminal activity for them all to get felony charges, that’s going to stifle free expression in the streets, and prevent people coming out and protesting when they have every right to do so.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors for the US Department of Justice (DoJ) introduced undercover video footage taken by the far-right media group Project Veritas as evidence to be used against political activists associated with Disrupt J20, a protest group charged with rioting and property destruction on the day of Trump’s inauguration last January: here.

The first of a round of trials surrounding the defendants involved in the January 20 protests against the inauguration of President Donald Trump came to a close on Friday. The jury has been in deliberation over the weekend, with a verdict due to arrive at some point this week. The mainstream press has held the case under an effective media blackout, with the exception of a few cursory articles that largely gloss over details: here.

ACCORDING TO THE U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION Black men’s sentences are twenty percent longer than white men’s for similar crimes. [HuffPost]

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