Why am I facing 75 years in prison?

  • Posted on: 3 July 2017
  • By: thecollective

From Al Jazeera by Carlo Piantini

On January 20th, during the inauguration of Donald Trump, the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) violently and indiscriminately attacked scores of protesters, journalists, legal observers, medics, and bystanders in the vicinity of an anti-fascist/anti-capitalist march. The MPD trapped, or "kettled", more than 200 people, arresting them on a single felony riot charge with a boilerplate affidavit.

The march was an act of resistance against both Trump and the system that gives him power. As a part of this march, I was also kettled and arrested alongside scores of others. Nearly six months later, I and more than 200 other people have been re-indicted on eight felonies each. We all currently face the potential of 75 years in federal prison.

Certain memories of the day of my arrest stand most vividly in my mind: zip-ties cutting into my wrist and the taste of pepper spray; losing count of the roaches that crawled over me in my sleep; the constant horror of not knowing where my partner was.

According to a report issued in February by the DC Office of Police Complaints, the MPD unleashed a variety of "less-than-lethal" weapons against protesters - without warning or direct provocation - as a general crowd control tactic. "Less-than-lethal" is a very broad euphemism. Thinking about the violence of the police that day, I remember the footage of an elderly woman brutalised by a river of pepper spray and saved from a phalanx of riot police by a black-clad protester. I recall a fellow arrestee in my cell unit with an eye bulging out of its socket like a tomato - the offspring of pepper spray and contact lenses - and how we had to demand they receive medical attention.

Watching the footage from the arrest made me relive the concussion grenades that exploded in the streets. I am reminded of the mutilation of Sophia Wilansky's arm at Standing Rock by a similar "stinger", while the police dowsed hundreds of water protectors with water cannon in below freezing temperatures. I remember the blood-soaked pavement outside the Omni Hotel when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department murdered Justin Carr with a rubber bullet to the head during the Charlotte uprising last September.

These tactics are not new in Washington, DC. In 2002, then Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham ordered the mass arrest of over 400 people in Pershing Park during protests against the World Bank. The mass arrest ultimately cost the city more than $8m in a civil suit that ruled it an unlawful act of police misconduct.

As acting police chief, Newsham also issued the order for the inauguration day mass arrest. Despite the spectre of yet another brutal mass arrest, Newsham was appointed police chief by DC Mayor Muriel E Bowser and the DC Council in May.

With a pending lawsuit challenging Newsham's abusive practices, it remains to be seen what he will cost the working people of DC this time. A civil suit has already been initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the current investigation into police conduct will cost approximately $150,000, which is $50,000 more than the estimated damage of the alleged events on Inauguration Day.

To understand the extremity of the charges brought against us in this case, the arrests need to be viewed through the lens of political repression. Across the country, thousands of people are engaged in resistance against the daily operations of the capital and the state, fighting to survive the crises that this system constantly produces. Almost immediately after our arrests, thousands of people occupied and shut down airports to reject what has become known as the Muslim Ban. Camps have formed in Florida and Pennsylvania to blockade the development of the Sabal Trail Pipeline and Mariner 2 Pipeline. An encampment has formed outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, to support undocumented immigrants that have been resisting forced prison labour through hunger strikes. In major towns across the country, from Portland to Olympia to Houston, marginalised communities have disrupted fascist/white-nationalist rallies in self-defence amid an astronomical spike in hate crimes and right-wing violence.

None of this resistance can be tolerated. The state's main social function is specifically to suppress public outrage, either by redirecting it into preconfigured campaigns or through political repression.

The prosecutor would like to depoliticise the charges we are facing, but the reality is that this case is not about so-called "criminal behaviour": This case is about turning protesters into felons, and the criminalisation of resistance. The state is perfectly willing to permit thousands of people to wear safety pins and pussyhats, march along well-policed parade routes, and powerlessly petition their authorities for change - so long as they do not shatter the illusion of everyday politics or disrupt the constant flow of capital.

The severity of the threat is intended to extract as many guilty pleas as possible, while sending a clear message to potential protesters that the consequences for opposition will be grave.

But what Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter have taught us all is that if a community's resistance is perceived as effective then the full measure of state violence will be used to neutralise it. Standing Rock prevented the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline for months before its eviction by legions of police. The executions of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray produced demonstrations of such tremendous pain and outcry that they seized Ferguson and Baltimore, and were stomped out by the National Guard.

The events of January 20 represented a similar disruption: The march shut down the roads of DC, and the magnitude of the MPD's violent response shattered the fragile spectacle of the inauguration. Business-as-usual was put on hold, and the consequence is that everyone rounded-up and arrested must now be made an example of. The superseding indictment and its additional felony charges are a means to coerce defendants into accepting plea deals against their will.

The goal is not to convict people to 75 years in prison. The severity of the threat is intended to extract as many guilty pleas as possible, while sending a clear message to potential protesters that the consequences of opposition will be grave. These pleas are needed to vindicate the state's narrative and legitimise their repression. The intention is to set a legal precedent for mass arrests in the era of constant crisis, so that future social movements can be smothered in the cradle.

Regardless, we're six months into this case and hundreds of defendants have committed to pursuing trials in a round of status hearings this month. A growing number of defendants have committed to rejecting pleas that aren't universally offered to all co-defendants, and over 100 have agreed to reject any cooperation with the state. Fundraisers have been organised by defendants and defence committees to gather the funds for legal and travel costs. The Mid-Atlantic General Defense Committee has initiated a support campaign to drop the charges.

When repression strikes our communities, solidarity becomes our strongest defence. While this process has been traumatic, it has produced countless beautiful relationships of support among co-defendants, supporters, and our communities. Those relationships and bonds of trust have the power to resist this political persecution, and we will continue to organise a collective defence together.

Carlo Piantini is a social activist, community organiser, and political defendant in the federal case against Inauguration Day protesters.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Comments

I wish people would stop calling flash bangs "concussion grenades". They are not. Concussion grenades are military ordinances designed to kill when they explode. Cops don't use these.

Maybe these cops didn't use lethal grenades but never say never! Was it a flash bang that nearly amputated that girl's arm at standing rock? Serious question.

My turn: I wish people would keep spreading the word about not wearing contact lenses to combative street demos. As a medic, I cringed hard at the "eye bulging out of its socket like a tomato". Especially if the contact lens is left in there once it swells up.

Yes you are remembering correctly about the woman's arm at standing rock.

Flash bang grenades tend to be called concussion grenades not only due to their visual similarity, but because their fragmentation projectiles are made of high-density plastics that can cause significant physical damage, even if not as severe as the iron, polymer or other materials they're using in actual military concussion grenades. Just like the plastic bullets used by riot pigs, they're done with "rubber" as a tactic to bypass regulations concerning the use of lethal weapons as crowd control.

Even the use of "rubber" instead of "plastic" is a politico-legal rhetorical device used to make the projectile sound non-lethal, while they still are.

It's not a some BB gun found at Canadian Tire that'll plant a one-centimeter piece of plastic in a comrade's leg (as I've seen myself in person). I also knew somebody who had his foot blow up by one of these grenades. These cases happened in the ZAD during the most intense fights, and there are records of these two casualties, like many others.

Of course they aren't made *by design* to be killing people on-the-spot, but their lethality is still a reality.

https://www.propublica.org/article/flashbangs

I know someone who lost an eye to a rubber bullet. Fucking disgusting state violence. Death to every riot pig.

Don't worry, they love to get the drama queens all flustered with the maximum possible sentence, then the judge will consider context and 75% will get out with a slap on the wrist and community service or fine, the other 25% will be seperated into instigator and brainless follower, the instigators will get 5 years and the mindless sheep will get 2 years out in 12 months for good behavior.

With their brand new 2nd-class citizen status as an ex-con ...

"Citizens"! But what activist anarchist would value this classification other than a lackey of the State. And if it impacts ones future employment plans, shit happens, one should have thought of not shitting in the nest that nurtures you, even if it has its corruptions and flaws. Thus activism is a fail and hypocritical.

Hahahahaha, yeah, its funny as hell how prison terrifies people, hahahahahahahaaaaa, I thought it was part of good cop/bad cop routine and Harrelson was gonna burst in on McConaughey and tell him it aint so, IF you tell us who did it? Now I want to see the whole episode, damn. Sad thing is though, the weak ones actually kill themselves,,,,those that made them that way have a lot to answer for.

No, I wasn't trying to be funny, just suggestive. Have you tried stepping in front of a bus? Maybe smoke some crack and give it a try. It'll get you fucked up.

Hahaha stop it! Hey, I'm not a sadist, its just that telling people to self-harm on the internet is soooo, childish. I even laughed at Trump's body slam of the CNN reporter, hey, I'm into Chaplanesque humor that's all.

But you really should give it a try.

I've suffered enough trauma thankyou very much. Can we move on to another related topic please, like how activists disguise their actual lack of empathy with a spectacle of hysterical emotion and the substitution of a fetish such as organized protest to fill the vacuum.

Bootlicking 101. Author: LeWay

"The Dichotomy of the Activist Creed" was a chapter heading in my Aesthetic Insurgence manuscript, I've sort of let that sit in a draw since my partner moved in, but I dragged it out to refresh my memory, it describes the basics of the binary parts "Freedom of Speech" and "Violent Activism", as mutually exclusive yet having become acknowledged as ACCEPTABLE within the whole cultural experience. I capitalized ACCEPTABLE because that translates as INEVITABLY FUTILE. This is the present state of the global political humanist vision, it is irreversible, and yes, I'm in an armchair, love humanity and the environment, and just wait,,,,,,,,wait for it just to evolve or arrive in natural probability cycles,,,,,,,

PS, Its sort of like grunge music, when it first came out, it was gonna change the world, now they play it in escalators, everything is subsumed by the collective majority libidinal economy,,,,,,

As usual … nobody cares about your ego babble

Being a felon is the best thing that ever happened to me. Exclusion from the system keeps one honest and able to see it for what it is and fight it and not get coopted by salaries, credit scores, debts, toys, etc... In a system as evil as this, the duty of every honest person is to break the oppressive laws they say makes you a felon.

May we all become felons! And may the system be crushed by it's own exclusion.

Well I think you should go easy on that 19th century libertarian idealism. Especially when it comes to hoping that everybody will stop conforming, or compromising to the State.

Rather develop communities of concrete resistance where the Law is excluded from social relations, where the dominant institutions become de facto derelict. That, my friend, isn't really something my local anarchist milieu has been at. And this is, according to Frank Lopez, "the biggest anarchist community in North America". Talk about speculative bubbles..

Takes time to realize how the commodity system is intertwined with the legal-political apparatus... But so it seems many of your young anarchist buddies will get to realize it once they're all entangled and dead-locked to the commodity system.

If that's true, lets assume your experience is exceptional … rather than the rule. I'm going to keep assuming keyboard warriors aren't exactly the fountain of wisdom on the subject.

We threw a Fuck the Police solidarity action in Barcelona a few years ago and my squatmate got hit with a direct shit to the dome with a rubber bullet. That shit cracked his skull and he had internal bleeding into his brain with life threatening swelling. He was in the icu for 3 weeks and came close to dying several time. I was hit directly by a car and at about 25 miles per hour. My head went through the windshield and it only gave me a concussion and barely visible scar. Fucking less than lethal is bullshit. ACAB Death to them all.

It bears thinking about that the vast majority of "people" who design and use "non-lethal crowd control" equipment are the same sort of people who complain about how the "liberal media" prevents them from just massacring political opposition in the first place.

OOoooOOOOoooOO they're all evil OooOO, hunchbacks drooling while they grind their axe and dream of blood and gore and guts hanging from the lamposts OOooOOOO, mixing up molotov cocktails OOooOO to hurl at security and burn a bank OOooOO where some workers and cleaners, a mother and young woman OOooOO are working overtime to feed their children OOooOOOO and die,,,,,,gang of drunken mob waving meatcleavers and baseball bats OOoooOOO descend on mall indiscriminately throwing bricks where children are playing OoOOoO.

Actually, I work in the security industry and know the mindset first-hand. I don't really believe in evil, just different psychological profiles. If you were staffing a riot squad, would you hire hippies to blow bubbles at the crowd?

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