A tale of three protests

A small tale of three protests in Washington, DC, this calendar year, and their sequelae*…

January 20, 2017: Roughly 230 protesters, street medics, legal observers, and journalists, were mass arrested on Inauguration Day in DC during a black bloc anticap/antifa march that broke chain store windows. Police surrounded the march and did not allow anyone to leave, gradually taking people from the crowd to jail over a period of several hours. Some of those were pepper-sprayed, tear gassed, shot with less-lethals, or cut with shrapnel from concussion grenades. 213 are still charged with felony rioting, a charge that carries a potential 10-year sentence, and one who had that charge has taken a plea deal. The large majority are not alleged to have broken windows or done anything except be associated with or in proximity to the march, and as the article at that link makes clear, US attorneys in DC are treating things like black clothing and chants of “Whose streets?” as evidence.

February 16, 2017: Six protesters – four Jews, two Muslim Arabs – were arrested protesting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Three of the Jewish protesters paid small fines that day, the fourth was transferred to traffic court. The two Muslim Arab protesters, alone, were criminally charged by US attorneys in DC, with charges carrying up to six months in jail, simply for standing up and peacefully interrupting a speaker. The two men are fighting their charges, rejecting a plea deal and asking for a trial. American Muslims for Palestine, where they work, has been campaigning to raise awareness of what has happened and get the charges dropped, using the hashtags #DroptheCharges and #SelectiveProsecution, in conjunction with IfNotNow, the DC and NYC chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, FOSNA, USPCN and USCPR.

March 26, 2017: Progressive Jewish group IfNotNow protested the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) policy conference. People in the IfNotNow group, and later a Palestinian-American man curious about what was happening, were repeatedly attacked, with flagpoles and fist/foot strikes, by the JDL (Jewish Defense League), a Kahanist paramilitary group. JDL members also threatened to snap off the fingers of a Palestinian Al Jazeera reporter and hassled Code Pink demonstrators across the street. The Palestinian-American man they attacked was hospitalized, having to get 18 stitches, and nearly lost an eye. An IfNotNow Boston member received a concussion. There was minimal police intervention until there had been multiple attempts pushes by the JDL into the large IfNotNow group, at which point they formed a line between the groups. In the second video in +972 Magazine’s article about the events, one can see police belatedly and briefly talk to a JDL member in a blue hoodie after one of his own people pulled him to the side. They did not, however, arrest him, even though as that video and others show, he had already attacked multiple people. This left him free, as can be seen in the first video, to participate in the attack on the Palestinian-American man (which police were rather slow to stop, being apparently more concerned with containment). Two JDL members were eventually arrested (see here to get a sense of how reluctant the police were to do that). One was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon (which carries up to 10 years in prison), and one with assault (I have seen conflicting reports about misdemeanor assault, which carries up to six months in jail, vs assault with serious injury, which carries up to 10 years in prison), though hate crime enhancements allow for up to 1.5 times the maximum sentence in all cases. No other JDL members have been charged by US attorneys in DC, though the first video clearly shows more than two people attacking the Palestinian-American man.

From these three incidents, all involving the US Attorney’s Office in DC and DC law enforcement (though the Friedman case presumably involved the Capitol Police rather than DC’s MPD), I have some of the following inferences and thoughts.

– DC police consider broken windows in a business district to warrant more urgency than people in a protest setting being attacked and beaten.

– DC police consider every politically aligned person in the vicinity culpable and subject to arrest if someone breaks windows in a business district, but not if someone attacks people who are in a protest setting. They didn’t even consider the people who actually committed the attacks culpable, only arresting two after a lot of advocacy by the Palestinian-American man’s daughter, and after those two attempted to flee the scene.

– The US Attorney’s Office in DC considers breaking windows, or being in proximity to and in rough political alignment with, someone who broke windows to be a crime roughly as severe (minus the hate crime enhancement) as beating someone in a protest setting with a flagpoles and fists/feet and putting them in the hospital.

– Two Muslims who protested at a Senate committee hearing are being prosecuted while most of the JDL members who attacked people outside of AIPAC are not, and that says something unflattering about the US Attorney’s Office in DC and its priorities.

– DC police do not prioritize the safety of Arab or progressive Jewish bodies.

– The US Attorney’s Office is engaging in racist selective prosecution of Muslim Arab protesters relative to white Jewish ones.

– Does the US Attorney’s Office buy into both stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs being inherently threatening, and stereotypes about Jews being weak and unthreatening (for that matter, do the police, and is that relevant to how they handled the AIPAC protests)?

To learn more about how you can help the two Muslim Friedman hearing protesters who are facing selective prosecution (especially if you are in the DC area and could do court support!) see here. I can’t find anything about ongoing support requests from Kamal Nayfeh, the Palestinian-American man beaten by the JDL. To support the legal fund for those arrested on Inauguration Day, go here.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I was a medic at the Inauguration protests (not on that particular march, though I saw the kettle from the outside and treated some of the people who had been on it, either on the streets, for those who managed to flee before police closed in, or later at jail support), and at the IfNotNow AIPAC protest. I was not part of the Friedman protest, though I am friends with one of the Jewish arrestees.

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