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Black Lives Matter protest crackdown: Hundreds face trial and prison across the US

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Opinion: Black Lives Matter protests are not enough for long-term results | Opinion | DW | 28.06.2020
Black Lives Matter protest

There are urgent calls for the American authorities to start thorough investigations, in order to combat the multiple cases of police oppression and brutality of citizens especially blacks.

Hundreds face lawsuits and jail terms relating to the Black Lives Matter protests, 5 months after George Floyd’s death, accross the country.

Lee Percy Christian III didn’t think Arizona law enforcement could stop him from protesting – until they locked him up indefinitely.

Earlier this month, Christian, 27, was arrested for “unlawful assembly” after a Black Lives Matter protest in Phoenix and jailed without bond because of outstanding charges from previous demonstrations. Prosecutors later suggested bond be set at $100,000. Christian’s lawyers and a judge agreed he could be released on a lower bond – if he didn’t participate in future public protests.

Christian was mortified, but agreed to sign away his right to protests so he could leave jail – he had spent nine days locked up. “I’m guilty until proven innocent,” he said recently on the phone. “We’re in a police state, and the last thing the police want is for me to be out there using my voice.”

Since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, millions of Americans have marched in cities big and small to protests racial violence and police brutality. The demonstrations have been overwhelmingly nonviolent, yet in many jurisdictions law enforcement has responded with force. Tens of thousands of demonstrators, activists and BLM supporters have been arrested.

More than five months since the start of the unrest, hundreds of these protesters have been slapped with serious charges by federal and local prosecutors, according to researchers and a review of court data. Some protesters have faced stacked charges and threats of life sentences. Others have been charged with “assaulting” police officers where there’s no evidence of violence and no reports of injuries. Some arrested protesters have been transferred to immigration authorities.

The crackdown comes as Donald Trump, eager to put Democrats on the defense, has ramped up warnings about Black Lives Matter, anti-fascists and the “far left” in the lead up to the election. He has called BLM a “symbol of hate” and claimed without evidence that “Antifa” will “attack your homes”.

A crackdown from the ‘top levels of government’

Research has shown that the vast majority of BLM-related demonstrations this year have not involved damage to property, harm to people or ties to extremist groups. In fact, physical force at protests has typically come from militarized police units, and the FBI continues to regard white supremacists and far-right groups as the most lethal domestic terror threat.

Still, federal prosecutors have doubled down on cases involving leftist protesters. From the end of May through October, federal prosecutors have filed more than 300 felony cases related to protests, according to The Prosecution Project (TPP), a research group that tracks political violence. Of those 300, roughly 30% are in Oregon (where nightly protests have received national attention), 9% in New York, 7% in Pennsylvania and 6% in Minnesota.

There are cases in at least 25 other states. The most common allegations include arson, illegal firearm possession, rioting and interfering with officers. Some involved incidents where property was damaged or destroyed during unrest in Portland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and other cities.

The vast majority involve defendants tied to leftist actions such as BLM or anti-fascism, though a small handful have far-right affiliations, according to Michael Loadenthal, director of the project and a Georgetown University professor.

This remains a sensitive issue especially for the African-Americans (the black community) as they take to the polls to see if their rights and privileges would be given the significance and respect it deserves in the American society by who eventually ascends the seat of presidency come the end of the US. elections.

Gift Joseph Okpakorese.
Staff Writer

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