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Jul 12, 18

J20 Prosecutions Crumble: Down with the Courts, Up with Defiance

Report and statement from DefendJ20 as the State has now dropped the remaining 39 J20 cases.

Defendants in the J20 case and their supporters are elated to announce that the US Attorney’s office is dismissing the remaining 39 J20 cases! We fought these charges through solidarity and daily effort, with countless hours of logistical, legal, political, and emotional support. We know this victory isn’t a matter of “justice being served,” but rather the state conserving its resources and adjusting tactics in the face of our continued resistance.

We are happy to say we won. We will savor this victory, and hope that our enemies feel it as their loss. While we know that a true win within the criminal legal system would involve its dissolution, we enjoy our moment to celebrate. It has been a difficult year and a half, and we are among the lucky ones. Many people spend years with their lives precariously suspended, awaiting the resolution of their cases. Jennifer Kerkhoff’s plan failed, and for that we allow ourselves a moment of joy, relief, and to recuperate ourselves in order to continue the struggle.

As we continue to fight, we know the laws that attempt to govern us are based on a colonialist system of empire and domination that concentrates power and wealth into the hands of corporate and political institutions. The laws are written to maintain their control, and many have a particular history linked to criminalizing protest, workers unions, and collective acts of resistance. We reject the legitimacy of these laws to exert control over our lives.

Mass arrests and heavy criminal charges are a hallmark of state repression. The state and its authoritarian collaborators hoped that the fear and trauma they inflicted would divide our movements and limit our ability to fight back. We stuck together through personal and political differences, geographic distance, and communication limitations, amid the psychological strain of bearing through the force of the state. We’ve done so because we knew then, as we know now, that we are stronger together.

Early on, defendants and supporters agreed to points of unity and non-cooperation, and this model of collective solidarity and defense has certainly made a difference in the legal outcome of these cases, as well as bolstered defendant and supporter morale throughout. We especially have been heartened by continued solidarity across borders and struggles–from land defenders at La ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes in France to gentrification-resisters in urban hubs in Ontario, Canada. From anarchists in Indonesia and Mexico, to radical unions in Spain, Germany, and Switzerland. –to name a few. We hope that the lessons we have learned, relationships we’ve formed, and the experiences we have gained will serve as resources for similar cases, as we know that repression is inevitable when we break with normalcy and choose to resist.

We had a diversity of motivations for protesting on January 20th, 2017. Many of us took to the streets because we were angry with the Trump presidency, with racism, with capitalism, with the police state and oppression, and with a world that makes such a violent system possible. We’re proud of the militancy that people showed on January 20th, 2017. There’s a lot to reflect on and discuss about the J20 protests, but–critiques briefly aside–it was cathartic to watch those symbols of capitalism shatter. It’s important for us to remember why folks took the risks that they did and not shy away from what happened that day.

In the aftermath of the J20 protests, the state cast a wide net, hoping to make it clear that this type of resistance was unacceptable. Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff (who prosecuted this case) and DC police union treasurer Greggory Pemberton (lead detective in the case) bear much of the responsibility for the J20 prosecutions. Hopefully, the missteps and incompetence they displayed in these trials will limit their ability to impact the lives of others who come into police custody. We are heartened to know that their overt collusion with the far right (namely, Project Veritas) backfired on them and contributed to their legal case crumbling. Together, these two hid from both defendants and judges the fact that they had heavily edited the Project Veritas video they were relying on to establish the alleged conspiracy–and that they were hiding an additional 68 recordings in their possession! Collusion with far right groups has been increasingly evident in protest cases across the country, but it’s important to recognize that this is the standard operating procedure for cops and courts, either directly to target particular people or systemically as part of continuous oppression of particular communities. So while this is nothing new, failures in this approach to dismantle radical struggles and resistance are notable and help give us a little more breathing room, a little more space to fight back.

Additionally, it is notable that Kerkhoff got caught hiding evidence, especially when trials were still underway rather than years or decades later. Hiding evidence to ensure convictions is a fundamental part of the criminal legal system; so common, in fact, that it’s routine to see headlines about prisoners (largely poor people and people of color) being exonerated after serving decades in prison when evidence was hidden or fabricated. Yet it is rare for prosecutors to get caught, and the ramifications of this prosecutorial faux pas (the getting caught part, we mean) undoubtedly contributed to the prosecution dropping all the remaining charges.

234 people arrested, 217 indicted on what was initially a minimum of 8 felonies each, and ZERO convictions at trial! Only 21 plea deals were taken, and only one of those was for a felony. We can only hope that Kerkhoff and Pemberton’s names become synonymous with the failed attempt to criminalize dissent in DC. The J20 case should hinder the state’s ability to use the Riot Act and charges of conspiracy against protest in the future. This statute since its inception has been a racist and repressive piece of legislation, intended to restrict acceptable protest to those that cooperate with police and city officials.

While we push for these prosecutors and detectives to face consequences for the harm they’ve inflicted, we want to be clear that we see the entire court system as fundamentally unjust and harmful. Our ultimate desire is its collapse, along with the state and the system of capitalism. Police and prisons will never shape the world we want to live in. It’s our hope that the J20 case will stand as precedent, and the resistance against state repression will continue. Shout out to our friends at the Tilted Scales Collective, whose writings and analysis have served as a resource for many defendants in this case.

We stand in solidarity with everyone fighting state repression in all of its forms. While we also know that conspiracy charges are used punitively against protesters, more often they are used to target people of color in the so-called “war on drugs” and “war on terror”. Solidarity with everyone resisting state repression not just in cases related to political activities, but with all those targeted by the modern-day slavery state apparatus that is the prison industrial complex. And solidarity to our friends in Hamilton, Ontario and Montreal, those targeted by ICE, those facing trial related to charges stemming from the Charlotte Uprising, G20 arrestees in Europe, those doing time for their participation at Standing Rock, friends in Charlottesville, VA, the list continues…

against courts and a world that requires them,
*Former* J20 defendants and their supporters

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On January 20th, 230 people were mass arrested during demonstrations against Donald Trump's Inauguration. 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. On April 27th, multiple additional felony charges were added. The 211 remaining defendants could now face up to 75 years in prison.

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