On Jan. 20, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department arrested more people than it had space to detain. As one of the 214 people arrested protesting Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, I was among them.
Other protesters and I were surrounded without an order to disperse, sprayed with chemical irritants and boxed into the corner of L and 12th streets NW. At about 6:30 p.m., after spending eight hours on that corner, I was handcuffed and put into a police wagon.
Six blocks away, a Trump supporter was arrested at his room at the Mayflower Hotel. John Joseph Boswell was being accused of sexually abusing a hotel worker the previous day, but it was not reported until Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. I assume a jail cell was arranged for Mr. Boswell; I was one of many held in limbo at a police academy on the other side of the Anacostia River.
Many things have happened since Jan. 20, including a report from the Office of Police Complaints that criticized Chief Peter Newsham’s mass arrests without a dispersal order. Two hundred and fourteen people were charged with felony riot by virtue of being corralled into the same corner as a squadron of police. This same group was served a superseding indictment in April with additional charges of inciting, conspiracy and destruction of property. Most of those accused have still not seen particular evidence of their “offenses,” and the first trials are not scheduled until March 2018. The pressure to plead guilty has increased with the onslaught of additional charges, as surely is the prosecutors’ intention. As things stand, charges against the 211 remaining defendants carry combined maximum sentences of up to 75 years in prison.
The determination by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to pursue the Inauguration Day charges has gobbled up resources and stretched the limits of affordable defense counsel in the capital. This incident has generated outrage from civil liberties advocates, privacy activists and legal experts. The tone of the arrests has sent a chill through a country with a long history of productive protest and grass-roots political expression.
Since the inauguration, people have continued to fight the threat of a Muslim travel ban, the systematic harm to and deportation of immigrants, the gutting of crucial environmental protections and indicators of gross misconduct by the Trump team.
Amid this mayhem, a 70-year-old whiskey-barrel magnate pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual abuse and walked out of court with a $50 fine and a suspended 10-day jail sentence.
This is a study in contrast between two cases, both taking place on the same evening in January. Boswell had the unique experience of spending a night in the D.C. jail system with hundreds of anti-Trump, anti-racist and anti-capitalist activists. In contrast, the plea agreements so far being offered to inauguration protesters include felony charges, hefty probation time and fines many times greater than Boswell’s.
The hotel industry continues to be a statistically dangerous work environment, although there have been great efforts by unions to enforce protocols and create alarm systems. It is significant that the victim’s manager reported the incident, which led to charges against Boswell. The attempt to seek justice ended, however, with the D.C. court system offering a light plea deal to a millionaire. The message from the court was that the District does not value safety in the workplace and does not provide an acceptable standard of protection for women’s bodies.
What the city values more highly, as evidenced by the multiple felony charges for a diverse group of protesters, is the protection of insured corporate property and the control of popular dissent.