Criminalizing protests demonstrates abuse of power

Clara Barros/ Contributing Writer

Jan. 20, 2018 was the one-year anniversary of the political repression of over 200 people in Donald Trump’s inauguration protest in Washington, DC.

On that same day one year ago, thousands of people went out to the streets to oppose Trump’s inauguration. The protest, known as #DisruptJ20, included Black Lives Matter activists, Standing Rock indigenous blockades, labor blockades, and feminist and queer marches.

Different groups with different forms of protest all come together to support each other, disrupt the inauguration, and oppose Trump’s agenda.

The police were ruthless. They used a tactic called “kettling”. In an analogy with compressing water while dissipating heat, the tactic consisted in enclosing the protesters in a corner of the street to demobilize them.

While they were trapped, the police poured gallons of pepper spray and threw stun grenades at them, weapons that temporarily deafen and impair balance. In addition, throughout the day,  more than 70 stingball grenades were blown up, according to the solidarity group DefendJ20 Resistance.

People were held in the “kettle” for seven to 16 hours, without water, food, or access to bathrooms. The group included not just protesters, but also journalists and medics. Some had to squat and urinate on the floor.

Over 200 people from the “kettle” were arrested. In normal circumstances, when police action is indiscriminate, arrestees are charged with misdemeanors and released within 24 hours. However, the way the US Attorney’s Office decided to prosecute the case was unprecedented.

All persons were charged with six or more felonies, including rioting, inciting to rioting, and breaking the same five windows. Their cell phones were hacked and their social media was scrutinized.

What is more, the Department of Justice issued a warrant to obtain all 1.5 million IP addresses of the visitors of, the website where protesters had planned the action. They also obtained the names of the 6,000 people who liked their Facebook page.

J20 trials began in November 2017 and are ongoing. Because of the clear absurdity and lack of basis for the accusations, most cases have been dropped — but 59 people are still at risk of being sentenced to 60 years in prison.

DefendJ20 Resistance, who is raising funds for the defendants, reports that the indictment is virtually basing its case on things like  “marching” and “wearing black”.

The story of J20 is a colossal red flag. If the defendants are found guilty, this will create a precedent for unimaginable repression in future protests, as well as for the curtailment of social movements.

Even in case the charges get dropped, the entire process is very telling of how dissent has been increasingly suppressed and criminalized — and these are code words for authoritarianism.

We should view this as a threat to the right to protest and to freedom of assembly, and as a reminder that we should never take these rights for granted.

In fact, they were conquered after much struggle, and it is in our hands to resist to their gutting.

We need, more than ever, to insist that protesting is not a crime, to make sure our voices are heard, and to remember that dissent is vital for any society that aspires to be democratic.



The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash.

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