As American Injustice Climbs: States Conspire To Break & Muzzle Dissent


By Chip Gibbons
Jacobin (7/20/17)

On January 20, 2017, as Donald Trump assumed the presidency after his surprise victory months before, many were anxious about what lay ahead. Throughout his campaign the reality TV star turned presidential contender had repeatedly shown his deep-seated authoritarian tendencies.

Before, during, and after Trump was sworn in, on the streets of Washington DC, authoritarianism was on full display. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) deployed flash grenades, tear gas, and “stingers” against protesters. Early in the day the MPD engaged in kettling, an intimidation tactic in which police pen in everyone in a given area and arrest them en masse. The kettling resulted in the arrest of over two hundred protesters, journalists, and legal observers.

Mass arrests of protesters (and inevitably, bystanders) are not new for the MPD, but this was the first time police had deployed the tactic since at least 2005. High-profile mass arrests of World Bank and antiwar protesters in DC had sparked a public backlash, and the city ultimately paid out millions of dollars to those arrested. Fed up with the police’s antics, the DC city council passed legislation meant to protect the right to protest and curb police power.

The Inauguration Day crackdown, however, was not just a callback to an earlier era. In the end, 214 people were charged with felonies, something that lawyers in the city say is unprecedented.

Any hint that movements are in ascendency means the crackdown is not far behind. But some causes and groups attract special scrutiny.

The charges are connected to property damage and the alleged injuring of a police officer. However, police, prosecutors, and protesters agree that all 214 of those charged did not directly engage in these acts. One individual subsequently charged was not even present at the protest, but simply involved in the planning.

Prosecutors are engaging in guilt-by-association logic, arguing that the mere presence at a march, that joining in common activist chants, makes one guilty of offenses like felony rioting, inciting or urging to riot, and conspiracy to riot. With multiple felony charges, some of the protesters are facing up to seventy-five years in prison.

Such a blatant assault on democratic rights could be seen as the opening push in a new wave of authoritarianism — the first salvo in Trump’s war against protest movements. But while Trump’s presence in the White House sends a powerfully repressive signal to all levels of government and society, he’s just as much the product of authoritarian tendencies as their promulgator.

The Bipartisan Crackdown

The J20 mass arrests and prosecutions dovetail with a surge in Republican-sponsored legislation aimed at squelching street protests. At least nineteen such bills have been proposed in state legislatures across the country this year. Many would either increase the criminal penalties for acts associated with protests or attempt to hold other protesters or organizers liable for these acts. This is exactly what the J20 prosecutions seek to accomplish.

The Minnesota State Legislature, for example, considered a bill during its session that would have allowed cities to sue participants in “unlawful assemblies” for police costs. While the legislation failed to pass, lawmakers did approve a measure increasing the penalties for blocking traffic.

In Washington State, one Republican senator introduced legislation that would’ve allowed the state to charge protesters who impede traffic with “economic terrorism,” a felony offense. Arizona lawmakers debated a bill that would have permitted prosecutors to slap protesters with a racketeering charge, holding organizers responsible for unaffiliated individuals that commit crimes at protests.

North Dakota was perhaps the most appalling of them all. Republican lawmakers there proposed removing drivers’ liability if they “unintentionally” run over protesters with their automobiles.

This spate of legislation, commonly dubbed the “anti-protest bills,” is the product of Republican legislatures. But their Democratic counterparts have also been busy trying to stifle free speech. …

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  • Face Of The State: D.C. Cops Used Jailhouse ‘Rape As Punishment’ After Inauguration Day Mass Arrests, ACLU Lawsuit Says – … An officer ordered Horse, fellow plaintiff Milo Gonzalez, and three others to take their pants off before grabbing their testicles and then inserting a finger into their anuses while “other officers laughed,” the complaint alleges. Horse is a photojournalist, one of six reporters initially arrested and charged whose cases have been dismissed. “I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Horse said. “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.” In a statement responding to the lawsuit on Wednesday, the MPD defended its reputation and maintained that all its arrests were proper. … Read the Rest

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Criminalizing Critics of Israel: Congress Considers Sweeping Bills to Fine & Jail Backers of Boycott, Divestiture & Sanctions Movement

Democracy Now! (7/21/17)

U.S. lawmakers are seeking to criminally outlaw support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. If a proposed bipartisan law is passed, backers of BDS could face up to 20 years in prison and a million-dollar fine. We speak to Rabbi Joseph Berman of Jewish Voice for Peace and Ryan Grim of The Intercept. His latest article is titled “U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel.”

Link to Story, Transcript and 20-Minute Video