Defending Rights & Dissent was elated by the news that 129 of the J20 defendants had their charges dismissed. The J20 prosecutions have from the start been an attempt to criminalize dissent. Those arrested participated in a First Amendment protected assembly on the day of Trump’s inauguration when they were encircled by police and illegally arrested. Police that day also deployed super soakers filled with pepper spray, stingers, and batons against protesters, journalists, and observers.
Prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff attempted to transform a march into a criminal conspiracy to carry out a premeditated riot. Using an outrageous guilt by association theory Kerkhoff sought multiple felony charges against people, including not just protesters, but journalists and medics, she freely admitted did not personally engage in property destruction.
Even though Kerkhoff told a jury that “reasonable doubt doesn’t mean a whole lot” Kerkhoff, the Department of Justice, and DC police were dealt a humiliating defeat when a jury acquitted the first six defendants. While the DOJ had pledged to carry on against the remaining 188 defendants the public condemnation, successful organizing, and clear signal sent by the first round of acquittals made this completely untenable.
Nonetheless, the struggle continues. Fifty-nine people still face multiple felony charges. These include defendants who have been outspoken in organizing against the J20 prosecutions and challenging police brutality that took place on Inauguration Day, creating a disturbing inference that retaliatory motivations lie behind the decision to continue their prosecution. Even though they’ve narrowed the case, Kerkhoff is still casting a wide net that is designed to chill speech.
We are also concerned that the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning in theory they could be brought again at any time. Such a move clearly could chill individuals’ future participation in lawful, constitutionally protected activity or attempts to seek justice for the outrageous government misconduct they endured.
Defending Rights & Dissent demands that the remaining charges be dropped, that Jennifer Kerkhoff be fired, and that DC police be held accountable for the wanton brutality they engaged in during the inauguration.