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By: Danielle Corcione
On January 20, 2017, Americans from all different backgrounds came together to disrupt President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Capitol Hill. It’s safe to say there were significantly more people resisting (outside of ceremony boundaries) than supporting the new administration. This estimate was later confirmed by the Washington Post’s bird’s eye view photos, which compared Trump’s small crowd to those at both of Obama’s inaugurations.
A day before the Women’s March, Washington, D.C. activists organized #DisruptJ20, which brought together anti-capitalists and anti-fascists from all different lefist backgrounds. Particularly, those utilizing the black bloc tactic—who often wear all black and cover their faces to protect their identities—contributed to property damage and destruction. A parked limousine was set on fire shortly before President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. Property destruction dominated mainstream media narratives—though it only represented a small fraction of the entire day of action—and outlets failed to mention successful blockades that kept many Trump supporters from using certain entrances to the inauguration area.
It was at the anti-capitalist, anti-fascist “black bloc” march that law enforcement (using pepper spray, flash grenades and other crowd-control tools) arrested over 200 demonstrators that day. Numbers vary among corporate media outlets. CNN reported 217, but the Washington Post reported 230; many, including the New York Times, simply stated “over 200.” Nearly every account mentioned six police officers were injured—usually before they mentioned how many arrests were made.
The Defend J20 Resistance reports: “The arrests were made by use of a ‘kettle’ technique of individuals on the corners of L and 12th Street, without orders to disperse. 214 of these arrestees were charged under the Federal Riot Statute.”
Protesters are facing up to 75 years in jail, according to Democracy Now!: “While most of the protesters were already charged with felony rioting, the new charges also include inciting or urging to riot, conspiracy to riot and multiple counts of destruction of property.” Additionally, ThinkProgress reports D.C. cops “sought physical and emotional retribution on the hundreds of people kettled” and also used “rape as punishment.”
Additionally, journalists covering the demonstrations were arrested. CNN reports Santa Fe Reporter staff writer Aaron Cantú was indicted on eight different charges in June, including two felonies under the Riot Act. The Riot Act was originally passed in Massachusetts in 1786 in response to Shay’s Rebellion, an armed resistance against economic and civil rights injustices. The demonization and criminalization of protests as riots would later be worked into the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Cantú’s charges alarm writers and journalists like myself, who could soon become vulnerable to incrimination while covering protests.
Local Philadelphia organizations, including LAVA Space, A-Space, and Bindlestiff Books, have since fundraised on behalf of the J20 Defendants. Click here to support Philly J20 Solidarity Financial Support Fund.
What recent events will echo similar legislation that limit the people’s right to assemble? Combined with a Day Without Women, a Day Without Immigrants, and the airport protests in response to 45’s Muslim ban, state legislatures have pushed towards criminalizing protests. The Hill reports North Dakota has signed four laws to stiffen fines for protesters, further oppressing Native water protectors at Standing Rock. South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona have been working on similar measures, such as granting immunity to a driver who runs over protesters.
This isn’t the first time demonstrations have been criminalized. We can attribute our country’s political progresses to yesterday’s protesters, pushing the boundaries of their time: the Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall riots, the Boston Tea Party, the Ferguson uprising—the list goes on as the fight against the ruling class continues.