Police burst through the door at the Petworth home of a Disrupt J20 activist early Monday morning. No one was arrested, but police did seize personal property.
The MPD’s search warrant justified the raid as part of the ongoing “investigation into the conspiracy to riot.” They were collecting potential evidence in the mounting case against Inauguration Day protesters who are still facing felony charges of rioting. On Inauguration Day, small groups of protesters using Black Bloc tactics, such as wearing black clothes so as not to be identifiable, broke the windows of banks, a Starbucks, and other outposts of multinational corporations. Police confronted hundreds of protesters marching down K street, cornered them at 12th and L, and arrested 235.
Jake Dacks from the organization DC Stampede laments what he characterized as MPD’s harassment of fellow activists. “They trashed their house. Scared them,” he says. “But as far as I know now, none of them have charges against them.”
The police raid that happened Monday morning resulted in the confiscation of thousands of dollars worth of personal property, including computers, cell phones, art supplies, personal objects of sentimental value, and any other items associated with the “Black Bloc march on January 20, 2017.”
“Any future actions taken surrounding the inaugural arrests are part of an ongoing investigation by MPD and the USAO. Because this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot discuss it at this time,” Peter Newsham, D.C.’s top-cop, says in response to Democracy in Crisis queries about the investigation. The day after the raid, activists seeking to help created a crowdfunding campaign on the website gofundme.com to help replace what could be replaced and compensate for what could not. Hundreds of dollars came flooding in from those eager to help.
Despite early success, GoFundMe took removed the fundraiser from its site after only hours of soliciting donations, after which organizers at Resistthis.org released a statement.
“GoFundMe alleged that we violated their terms and asked us to update the campaign with additional information. Within minutes of receiving notification from GoFundMe that the ‘campaign has been suspended and your funds have been placed on hold,’ activists responsible for the fund did everything requested by GoFundMe to put the crowdfund page in compliance with no avail. That was 6:30 pm Eastern on April 4th. We have received no reply to date.”
Resistthis has since launched its own fundraising efforts hosted on its own website here. GoFundMe did not respond to questions before press time. On Wednesday evening, activists gathered at Potter’s House, a book store in Adams Morgan, for a letter-writing action urging charges against inauguration protesters be dropped.The event was organized by DC Stampede, a grassroots organization run by volunteers that works with other D.C.-based organizations in pursuit of social justice.
Packed around several small tables were over a dozen people penning letters to Mayor Muriel Bowser, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips, and Justice Department Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, the prosecuting attorney mounting a case against the Inauguration Day protesters.
The letter-writing event at Potter’s House is part of a weeklong series of actions in support and solidarity with those arrested. Film screenings, phone call-in events, and similar letter-writing events are happening in Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, and elsewhere. The actions are aimed at coalescing outrage with D.C. authorities and alleged First Amendment violations of protesters. Activists all across the country are also raising legal funds for the J20 arrestees.
The letter-writing template organizers provided calls on the authorities’ sense of compassion to drop the charges, in that the protests were not acting out of directionless malice or hate but rather concern for those disempowered by Republican obstructionism.
Backed up by reports from the Office of Police Complaints, the DC Legal Posse has argued that First Amendment rights of protesters were violated, and their arrests and charges unconstitutional, on the grounds that someone can’t be arrested for being adjacent to property destruction.
“Over 200 of them were charged with felony rioting, but it’s painfully obvious not 200 people were rioting, but they’re all given that same charge,” says Lauren Karaffa, fellow organizer with DC Stampede.
Concerning the ones committing property destruction, Dacks says, “Even if one person had smashed all those windows, should they face 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines? No.”
“It’s pretty clearly an act of political repression when they just round up all these people that were, at least most of them, were clearly just involved in the protest, which is supposed to be an American tradition that people are allowed to participate in,” says Karaffa, who watched it all go down. She was across the street at 12th and L, standing in a large crowd of those in solidarity with the kettled protesters, chanting words of support to their friends and words of condemnation to the lines of stoic police.
“I think the police acted really terrible that day. I came because my friend was texting me from inside the kettle,” Karaffa says. “We were just on the sidewalk, and the police smashed us up against the wall. They started pepper spraying us. They started letting off smoke bombs. There was actually a small child right next to me, probably like 5 or 6. He was really small. They told us to go left, but to me that was my right. And I was just so scared. They eventually just grabbed me and shoved me.”
The letter-writing event felt less like a political action and more like a gathering of friends chatting about politics and brainstorming further actions of solidarity and support.
“I am pretty close with somebody who was arrested on J20, and so I have a lot of anxiety around it, and what’s going to happen, and so I felt like I really wanted to do something,” Karaffa says. “I feel pretty powerless about the whole thing, and I wanted to be able to do whatever I could to help influence the outcome.”
Brandon Soderberg contributed reporting.
This post has been updated.