Yesterday, the government, represented by AUSA Jennifer Kerkhoff, reduced the charges of seven J20 defendants set to go to trial on December 11 in DC. Six felony and two misdemeanor counts are now only three misdemeanor charges: conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot and one count of property destruction. Without explanation, Kerkhoff changed the charges for these defendants (and these defendants alone at the moment), reducing the total time they are facing from around 60 years to under 2.
This announcement indicates a positive development, but it is unclear how this will impact the case overall. It is welcome news that these seven defendants no longer face life-altering felonies, but the prosecution has not given any indication as to why these changes have come to this particular group. There has been no change in the charges of the 186 other defendants, particularly the group slated to begin trial this Wednesday, November 15th. They continue to face a maximum sentence of 60+ years in prison. As this blog entry is being posted, the N15 trial group is about to begin their final pre-trial hearing.
The three misdemeanors charged against these seven defendants does not change a chilling legal maneuver attempting to broadly define conspiracy and implement a problematic DC Riot Statute. The U.S. Attorney’s Office not only seeks to put hundreds on the line for a few acts of vandalism—they are also attempting to criminalize political organizing and attending a protest as conspiracy. The majority of the prosecution’s arguments in court for these first two trial blocks so far has been focused on developing a conspiracy theory based on clothing, texts and online activity. If they are successful in this effort, it will still set a legal basis for district courts nationwide to conduct similar dragnet prosecutions and target activists based on any perceived political affiliations or actions.
Most of the defendants continue to work in solidarity with each other and understand that this case is an act of political repression aimed at criminalizing resistance. From the overcharging to force plea agreements to the state’s effort to redefine basic acts of political organizing as conspiracy, this case intends to send a message that resistance of any kind will be met with aggressive prosecution.
We will continue to support each other through these charges and will not stop until every single charge is dropped or every trial ends in acquittal. J20 defendants need your support now more than ever. Stay tuned for more updates and ways to be in solidarity, particularly about the N15 trial group after their court hearing today.