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. 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, marginalised communities have disrupted fascist/white-nationalist rallies in self-defence amid an astronomical spike in hate crimes and right-wing violence.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Why am I facing 75 years in prison?’