“Kerkhoff admitted that the state does not have any evidence to prove that any of these 6 defendants are themselves guilty of any acts of property destruction. Even so, Kerkhoff has pursued these politically motivated charges in order to crush dissent and pave the way for similar prosecutions to be used against any protesters anywhere.”
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Trial began Monday, November 20th for 6 of the 194 protesters, journalists, medics, and legal observers arrested while protesting Trump’s inauguration on January 20th who are still facing charges.
The defendants for this trial include a journalist and two defendants identified as medics, among others, who were kettled by the police on Inauguration Day. The lead prosecutor, Kerkhoff, started the trial with her opening arguments. These arguments focused on criminalizing typical protest items and actions, including: wearing similar clothing, arriving at a predetermined location for a public march, chanting, and covering faces with masks, goggles, and/or gas masks.
Kerkhoff admitted that the state does not have any evidence to prove that any of these 6 defendants are themselves guilty of any acts of property destruction. Even so, Kerkhoff has pursued these politically motivated charges in order to crush dissent and pave the way for similar prosecutions to be used against any protesters anywhere.
Some of the outlandish claims Kerkhoff made during her opening argument include asserting that a livestream video recorded by one defendant who is a journalist amounted to “PR” or public relations, for the alleged riot. Another outlandish claim is that the presence of medics is nefarious and implies a conspiracy, despite the clear evidence that medics attend to the safety of marchers. In addition, Kerkhoff argued that the arrest of defendants shows that they were in on the alleged conspiracy because they could have left the march, but chose not to. Not stopping at these blatant attacks on protest, Kerkhoff also focused on crafting a narrative that paints protesters as a “sea of black masks” that overpowered “helpless” police.
As expected and desired, the defense attorney’s’ opening arguments attacked some key claims and premises that Kerkhoff relied on in her opening arguments. All of the attorneys stressed that one of the main problems with this case is that there is no evidence to substantiate the charges of property destruction against the defendants.
Some of them played audio and video that showed how cops decided to arrest everyone almost as soon as the march began. This video was in direct contrast to Kerkhoff’s claims that the cops were struggling to keep up with the march and were helpless in the situation and that they did not interfere with the march until there was property damage. Some of the attorneys also showed footage of the cops attacking protesters with chemical weapons, batons, and projectile weapons, such as stinger grenades.
This footage directly called into question Kerkhoff’s argument that the police exercised restraint that day and were outnumbered and helpless. Notably, many of the defense attorneys introduced a key element that Kerkhoff had said the case wasn’t about at all: the political nature of the march. To illustrate that this case is really exactly about politics, the defense attorneys showed photos and video of the march while highlighting the presence of banners, flags, and political statements. The attorney for the journalist on trial further highlighted how the charges against this defendant are an attack on the freedom of the press, which is supposedly a principle and value that this government holds dear.
“A notable success in the events of the day was that supporters packed the courtroom in solidarity with the defendants. The courthouse was so full that the overflow room had to be used. Let’s make sure that every day of trial has just as much support as this first day!”
This attorney stressed that the government finding certain statements or views disagreeable—such as those in the livestream of the journalist—does not make them criminal. Finally, the attorneys for the two defendants alleged to be street medics challenged the idea that being a medic is a nefarious thing. Rather, these attorneys stressed that medics provide necessary care to people at protests for any number of reasons, including police deploying chemical and other weapons. After opening arguments, two witnesses took the stand to testify as witnesses for the state. The first witness was the manager of a cafe, Au Bon Pain, where windows were broken on J20. The second witness was a bike cop who was there on J20. That officer’s testimony will continue Tuesday and more of the 25-40 cops who the prosecutor has said she will call as witnesses will also begin to take the stand. After Tuesday, the trial will take a break for the remainder of the week and will continue next Monday, November 27th.
A notable success in the events of the day was that supporters packed the courtroom in solidarity with the defendants. The courthouse was so full that the overflow room had to be used. Let’s make sure that every day of trial has just as much support as this first day!
In the meantime, you can support J20 defendants by joining the call-in campaign on Tuesday the 21st. Call US Attorney Jessie Liu at (202) 252-7566 and DC Mayor Bowser at (202) 727-6263 to demand that the charges be dropped! For more details and an online petition to drop the charges, visit www.defendj20resistance.org/dropj20.