Victory for Political Organizing: Anti-Trump Protestors Found Not Guilty

In a major victory for activism and the First Amendment, a federal jury in Washington D.C. on December 21 returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges for six people arrested during Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20 and charged with rioting. They are the first group to stand trial out of 194 people who were arrested and charged with rioting.

The trial of the six defendants — Jennifer Armento, Oliver Harris, Brittne Lawson, Michelle Macho, Christina Simmon and Alexei Wood — began on November 20. They were not accused of causing damage, but simply of participating in and encouraging a riot because they were near a protest where other people caused damage. 

Lawson, from Aspinwall, PA, is a cancer nurse who has been forced to quit her job because of this trial. She said that she attended the protest to provide medical services as necessary to anyone injured. Incredibly, the prosecution alleged that her bag of medical supplies was proof that Lawson had come “prepared for war.”

Wood, from San Antonio, TX, is a photojournalist who was reporting on the protest when he was arrested. The prosecution tried to claim that his occasional cheers, recorded in his video of the event, proved that he was participating actively.

On January 20, around half a million people showed up in Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Trump. Amongst those thousands were hundreds who marched in an anti-capitalist rally organized by Disrupt J20.

According to the Disrupt J20 website, the goal was “to give expression to the massive opposition to Trump’s right-wing, racist and misogynist agenda. Organizers intend to demonstrate that people of conscience are the majority, and take steps towards organizing that sentiment into a force that can have an impact on Trump’s ability to claim a mandate, setting a tone of resistance for the coming years.”

In the late morning of January 20, just before Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the U.S., police surrounded or “kettled” more than 200 of these protestors.

Prosecutors Had No Evidence To Prove Destruction Of Property

The prosecution actually admitted in their opening remarks that they had no evidence of these six people personally destroying any property.

Here’s how Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff tried to persuade the jury: “Each of them made a choice, and each of them played a role. You don’t personally have to be the one who breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.”

Say what?

The jury didn’t buy that argument and acquitted all six, shutting down the attempt by federal prosecutors to make it a crime to attend an anti-Trump protest and to crack down on any speech that attacks Trump.

According to The Daily Beast, in an attempt to try to prove the defendants as guilty, “the prosecution relied on dubious evidence, including an edited song video from the oft-debunked conservative videographer James O’Keefe, protest footage ripped from mashup videos on conspiracy theorist YouTube Channels and a video from the right-wing militia the Oath Keepers.”

The First Amendment guarantees American citizens freedom of speech, meaning that they can state what they think as long as they don’t deliberately hurt a person’s reputation by making false accusations. 

It also includes freedom of assembly, allowing citizens to join political groups even if those groups hold unpopular views, as well as freedom of the press, so that Americans may stay informed about what’s going on with their government.

Donald Trump has tried to violate the First Amendment numerous times, most notably with his declaration of “fake news” and with condemning NFL athletes who are exercising their right to free speech by taking the knee at NFL games.

But this federal court in Washington D.C. has stood up to protect the First Amendment, as it should.

Jude Ortiz, a member of the J20 Defend team, said, “The prosecutor was trying to claim political organizing was conspiracy. And these acquittals show that that logic is not being bought.”

We’ll wait to see what will happen with the other 188 people who were arrested but meanwhile we can celebrate a victory for the truth.

“It’s been rare in 2017 to have tears of joy,” Ortiz said. “So to hear every ‘not guilty,’ one after the other….People were just sobbing out of joy and surprise.”

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes via Wikimedia Commons

81 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson7 months ago

Thank you!

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Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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DAVID f
Past Member 9 months ago

TY

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silja s
silja salonen10 months ago

arm raised fist pump into the sky .... resistance

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Danuta W
Danuta W11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Mike R
Mike R11 months ago

Thanks

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