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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
By Celisa Calacal, Lauren Kaori Gurley

Nearly six months after Donald Trump was sworn into office, more than 200 protesters who gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest his inauguration are facing felony charges that carry sentences of 70 to 80 years.

According to Al Jazeera, the 212 protesters were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department and initially charged with felony rioting, a crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine. On April 27, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia added additional charges that include urging to riot, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property.

The possibility of long-term prison sentences for these protesters could have a chilling effect on participation in future rallies, particularly at a time of heightened levels of anti-Trump activism. While it’s unclear whether police departments will respond to large-scale political protests in a similar fashion, a dangerous precedent has been set. These legal actions may also infringe on the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, as they directly target anti-Trump protest movements.

Olivia Alsip, a 23-year-old from Chicago, told Al Jazeera she never envisioned participating in the anti-Trump protests on inauguration day could leave her facing an 80-year prison sentence: “It seems that innocent until proven guilty is a falsehood—all the way from the prosecution and police to the people who had previously supported me in my activism.”

Alsip and the other defendants face the additional strain of having to pay for travel expenses to and from Washington for each of their court hearings before they go to trial. “Most of us don’t have a whole lot of money,” she said. “Generally we are fighting the rich because we are economically or politically disadvantaged and don’t have a lot of capital.”

As political protests and civil disobedience reach their highest levels since the 1960s, 18 states have responded by proposing over 30 bills aimed at suppressing demonstrations by increasing and expanding penalties for protesters. A new law in Missouri prohibits protesters from covering their faces with masks or other disguises. Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Iowa have introduced bills that call for increased penalties for blocking traffic and demonstrating on private property.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called these new laws “unconstitutional,” vowing to “fight in statehouses against any bill that violates the First Amendment.”

While several defendants have pleaded guilty to shorten their sentences, about 130 of the defendants have joined a “points of unity” agreement pledging to reject any potential plea deals and cooperation with prosecutors. On May 26, 21 defendants filed motions to have their cases dismissed.

Following the January 20 arrests, lawyers for some of the arrested protesters filed a class action lawsuit against the MPD alleging that law enforcement engaged in excessive use of force and conducted false arrests. The Office of Police Complaints, a D.C. government agency, has called for an independent investigation evaluating the actions of MPD officers that day.

Celisa Calacal is an intern for AlterNet. She is a senior journalism major and legal studies minor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Previously she worked at ThinkProgress and served as an editor for Ithaca College’s student newspaper. Follow her at @celisa_mia.

Lauren Kaori Gurley is a freelance writer and master’s candidate in Latin American studies and journalism at New York University. Her work has been published in In These Times, the American Prospect and the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. Follow her @laurenkgurley.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

16 Responses to In An Unprecedented Court Escalation, Trump Protesters Could Be Facing Decades In Prison For Inauguration Demonstrations

  1. This article is astonishing and chilling. What a coincidence—Trump received active support from Putin with his troll machinery and cyber war schemes; the police and the courts do Trump a further favor by arresting and threatening draconian penalties for protesting an election of the most unqualified person to run for anything ever, and who is known to have had extensive dealings with Russian officials; and the threats themselves mirror what is a matter of fact response to protests in authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere.
    Each day, the country drifts generally towards a major breakdown in civility in America. The country as a whole is directly guided down that path by a cowardly Congress and by an amoral President who has no qualms about being immoral.

    • Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj269d:
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    • There is NO Russian connection, other than the collusion between Emperor Obama, Hillary, and the DNC.
      Go back to your own country, Comrade.

      • Thank you, Putin troll, for that authoritative assessment. I feel so much at ease now that you’ve settled the issue, which you alone could have done so. You are a fount of reliable inside information, and the go-to guy for the real Okie-Dokie on anything related to Trump.

      • If there is NO Russian connection, as you insist, why did Flynn demand immunity from prosecution? An innocent man would not need to do so.

  2. Here’s a suggestion. Don’t riot, destroy property and injure people and pretend you’re just exercising your first amendment rights. The charges are justified and I hope the judges throw the book at the rioters.

    • Wondering if you ever read the Constitution of the United States. I’m betting no. They do not allow protesting in your country, but that is a rich tradition here.

      • Protesting, YES. RIOTING, LOOTING, and INCITING RIOTING are CRIMINAL ACTS. Paid Democrat THUGS should be aressted and jailed. Actually, ALL liberals should be deported or jailed as TERRORISTS. I hope this will be a new trend for dealing with the hypocrisy and liberal perception that laws do not pertain to them. Liberals are seditious, lying traitors, and should not be treated as AMERICANS. You people do not deserve to be here.

        • Jeez, kep.
          How ’bout we just lock up guys like you who lie about your imaginary military service?
          That’s “free speech” too, y’know.

  3. Our democracy is in a very precarious position right now and unless something changes this course it will be destroyed by Putin and his band of thugs.

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  4. From Putin’s playbook:

    First, ridicule the protestors.
    Second, incite your faithful to beat them.
    Third, enact laws against protest.
    Forth, kill the journalists.

    Seems like Agent Orange is on step three.

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