In November 2017, Chris Steele reported for Truthout on the repercussions of protester actions during the Inauguration of President Donald Trump, and his administration’s subsequent attempts to silence opposition to his election. The article outlines how the protestors’ democratic and civil rights are being infringed upon. After the dust settled on the protests at Trump’s Inauguration in January of 2017, over 200 protestors, journalists, and legal observers were arrested, and they face a range of charges including provoking a riot and conspiracy, some of which could lead to prison sentences of up to sixty years. Steele’s report highlights the new lengths Trump and his staff are going to stifle the rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the US.
Although this story began the day that Trump was inaugurated, reports of the resulting police brutality, including alleged sexual assault, and harshness of the charges against those involved have left many in the know shocked. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, protesters blocked the National Mall entry where a celebratory parade was to pass. Police then began indiscriminately “using pepper spray, concussion grenades and stingers… including on people already detained, and… holding people outdoors ‘for excessive periods of time’ without access to food, water or bathrooms,” according to eyewitness reports. In a lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also alleges that police officers sexually assaulted four detainees as a form of punishment for their participation in the protests.
Steele further reported that the Trump administration’s response to the protests illustrates how the threat of felony charges can be used to force protestors to accept plea deals out of fear of more serious sentences. Jude Ortiz (chair of the Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild) noted that “95 percent of criminal cases end in plea agreements explaining that the odds are often stacked against defendants, which coerces them to take plea agreements instead of gambling against a biased system.” The prosecution in this case charged everyone arrested at this protest with conspiracy charges, despite the fact that most of the people had very little to do with each one another except that they all attended the protest and were arrested at the same time. Conspiracy carries a felony sentence and this charge is specifically designed to intimidate and coerce the protestors into accepting pleas.
There hasn’t been corporate media coverage of the severe repercussions, but there were several sources of media coverage on the initial event (NBC, CNN, and the Guardian). Many months later, as the charges are being put into action, “the US prosecution is seeking to charge each person with 60 years for allegedly urging a riot, breaking less than 10 windows and conspiracy charges.” This is outrageous and severe for a broken window and harboring opposite views of the establishment, much less when it’s 200 citizens united showing their political views through this (mostly peaceful) protest. Steele states, “civil liberty advocates are worried about the precedent these extensive charges and grandiose metadata subpoenas will have on chilling free speech and stifling dissent,” leaving many others in fear of pronouncing their views against Trump. Our freedom of speech is one of the foundations to having freedom in our beliefs, our lives, our politics, and so much more. This threat against the freedom of fellow citizens should not be taken lightly, nor can we fear the consequences of our beliefs, despite repercussions pressed upon us by the reigning establishment.
Source: Chris Steele, “As Trial Begins, Trump Protest Attendees Face 60 Years in Prison,” Truthout, November 15, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42602-as-trial-begins-trump-protest-attendees-face-60-years-in-prison.
Student Researcher: Arin Christman and Stephanie Rickher (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)
Editor’s Note: For prior coverage of this topic, see “Law Enforcement Surveillance of Phone Records,” story #11 from Censored 2018, https://www.projectcensored.org/11-law-enforcement-surveillance-phone-records/.