Image: Celeste Weingartner.
An ACLU lawsuit brought against the D.C. Metropolitan Police on Wednesday for events over the weekend of President Trump’s inauguration accuses authorities of arresting innocent parties, indiscriminately pepper-spraying a crowd, detaining people for up to 16 hours without food, water, or restroom facilities, and — perhaps most egregious of all — performing degrading body cavity searches unnecessarily and as punishment.
“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” asserted independent photojournalist Shay Horse, one of the four named plaintiffs in the suit. “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”
If punishment before trial of those charged seems excessive, if not legally gray, the arrests, themselves, far out-stepped the bounds of procedure — police “kettled” a group of over 200 people and, without determining precisely who had been responsible for property destruction moments prior, closed in and arrested everyone, including journalists, peaceful demonstrators, and bystanders.
Image: Celeste Weingartner.
Smaller, violent factions of demonstrators indeed seemed bent on destruction — but they were among a paltry minority, and by far, not numbering the total arrested that day.
Image: Celeste Weingartner.
“In the course of the roundup and subsequent processing of demonstrators, police held detainees for hours without food, water, or access to toilets,” states the lawsuit, “handcuffed detainees so tightly as to cause injury or loss of feeling,” and two of the plaintiffs “were subjected to intrusive, humiliating, and unjustified manual rectal probing and grabbing of their testicles.”
While the four plaintiffs — Horse, a legal observer, and two protesters — all say they did not participate in breaking store and car windows, destroying bus stops, setting trash cans alight, and the like, all four also believe the around 230 people arrested en masse on January 20 were subjected to similar rights-depriving conditions before courts could determine innocence or guilt.
But police beg to differ.
“Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests,” MPD claimed in a response to the American Civil Liberties of the District of Columbia lawsuit on Wednesday, adding that, although the majority of demonstration over Inaugural Weekend did remain peaceful, “there was another group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers. These individuals were ultimately arrested for their criminal actions, and the bulk of them are pending prosecution after being indicted by a grand jury. As with any pending criminal or civil matter, we will continue to support and respect the formal legal process. Moreover, all instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated.”
Since the arrests, those kettled have rightly insisted the sweeping procedure failed to account for actual culpability — that police instead sought to teach all protesters in D.C. that weekend a lesson, and that a massive, group arrest could not possibly have targeted anyone actually suspected of committing crimes.
“We have significant concerns that that won’t be sufficient, in light of repeat problems MPD has had with arresting law-abiding demonstrators and responding … with excessive force.”
Arrests were so indiscriminate, most arrestees will only be able to identify officers they accuse of abuse by name and badge number — once trial discovery begins and that information is made available to them.
Nonetheless, around 200 — including journalists — now face up to 80 years in prison, thanks to draconian laws equating certain forms of protest in D.C. to terrorism, arrest without probable cause, and an ongoing, brazen war against the free press and dissent in the United States.
“The MPD’s extreme tactics against members of the public, including journalists, demonstrators, and observers, were unjustifiable and unconstitutional,” Michelman continued. “People from all over the country come to the nation’s capital to exercise their constitutional right to protest. MPD’s wanton and vindictive conduct on January 20 chills free speech, which is a vital part of our democracy.”
However you feel about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the fact the charges against the group have not been investigated to determine whether the individuals were actually culpable for the crimes alleged, or that possession of a press badge or status as legal observer has not nullified the accusations portends an even further slide toward a nadir in freedom in the U.S.
“It is clear to me that the Metropolitan police came out on Inauguration Day intent on teaching demonstrators a lesson and chilling political speech in the nation’s capital,” Michelman added.
Indeed, it seems without massive outrage and a collective demand for justice for those already ostensively subjected to police abuse, the ability to demonstrate peacefully and without condition — even with nonviolent action — could slip away for all of us.
And that — not the $100,000 or so in damage wrought by actually guilty parties — is the most egregious development from the Inauguration Day protests.
Image: Flickr/Anthony Crider.
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Contributed by Claire Bernish of The Daily Sheeple.