Six people arrested during protests on Donald Trump’s inauguration day and charged with rioting and destruction of property have been acquitted by a jury.
They had faced sentences of up to 50 years in prison if they had been found guilty.
Prosecutors tried to blame the six protesters for £70,000 of property damage on 20 January (J20)—although they admitted there is no clear evidence linking the defendants to what happened.
In an argument based on “collective responsibility” that is loved by all repressive regimes, justice Department lawyers argued that those who were arrested were part of a so-called riot and therefore guilty.
Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said during opening statements, “You don’t personally have to be the one who breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.”
Attorney Rizwan Qureshi told jurors the group “tore up your city, putting people in danger.”
He told the jury they should use the example of a bank robbery, likening the defendants to a getaway driver while comparing those who smashed windows to the robber in the bank.
But the jury did not agree.
The verdict is a serious setback for the regime of Donald Trump and its crushing of dissent. It has lifted those who want a fightback.
“People won’t be afraid to show up and go to protest and get in the streets and not be worried that they’ll get mass arrested like we did,” said Michelle Machio, one of the six acquitted defendants. “This sets a really strong precedent that you can’t criminalise dissent.”
The verdict is a serious setback for the regime of Donald Trump
The verdict came despite the judge permitting questions to jurors about their political views on Trump during jury selection. Several jurors were removed when they voiced sympathy for the anti-Trump protests.
In her closing argument, defence attorney Sara Kropf reminded jurors that one of the police commanders was heard on a police radio at the beginning of the protest calling the demonstrators “anarchists.”
“This is about politics. This is about police and local prosecutors who work for the Department of Justice. And we know who they report to,” she said, referring to President Trump.
“All the government proved was that these individuals showed up and walked as protesters,” she said. “And that is not a crime.”
An additional 166 defendants are scheduled for trial, in groups of six or seven, throughout 2018.
“I hope this sends a message to the US attorney’s office to let all of these people go,” said attorney Betty Ballester, who represents one of the defendants scheduled to go on trial in April. “The jury has spoken.”