Roughly six months after U.S. rresident Donald Trump took office, upwards of 200 protesters that gathered in the nation’s capital to protest his inauguration are facing felony charges.
In an unprecedented move, these charges carry sentences of 70 to 80 years.
As Al Jazeera reports, 212 protesters were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department. Although they were charged with felony rioting initially — a crime with a 10-year sentence and $25,000 fine — they were later charged with other crimes including urging to riot and destruction of property, as well as conspiracy to riot.
These charges together could mean long-term prison sentences for these protesters an could certainly have dire implications on individuals willingness to participate in protests in the future. While it is still unclear whether or not larger-scale protests would be responded to in this fashion, it certainly sets precedent for it to be done.
One of the 212 that have been charged, Olivia Alsip, a 23-year-old from Chicago, told Al Jazeera that,
“It seems that innocent until proven guilty is a falsehood—all the way from the prosecution and police to the people who had previously supported me in my activism.”
While political protests continue to be on the rise, there have been efforts across the nation to silence protesters. Roughly 30 bills have been proposed in 18 states with the goal of suppressing such demonstrations by way of increasing the possible penalties that protesters may face.
Many have been outspoken against such laws, including the American Civil Liberties Union, who has been at the forefront of labeling them as “unconstitutional.” They have explicitly stated their commitment to fighting “in statehouses against any bill that violates the First Amendment.”
Many lawyers for the arrested protesters filed a class action lawsuit against the police department responsible for their arrests, claiming that the law enforcement agency employed excessive use of force and also conducted false arrests. The Office of Police Complaints, a D.C. government agency, has publicly called for an independent investigation into these allegations.