Rather Than The All-Too-Usual Small Fines and a Soapbox, Inauguration Day Rioters Face 10 Years in jail
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 22, 2017): In what appears to be a departure from the norm where those engaging in crimes during protests receive at most a small fine, and often a soapbox to spout their cause, most of the approximately 230 arrested in D.C. on Inauguration Day will be charged with felony rioting, which carries a penalty of up 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The threat of real prison time, and huge fines, will help deter many protesters who think engaging in criminal acts for a cause is appropriate, especially if the penalties are usually minor, if indeed they are even even imposed, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
A much more typical outcome occurred on the same day when authorities in Multnomah County (Portland) announced that virtually all of the criminal cases against people arrested – for disorderly conduct, interfering with a peace officer, and even for attempted assault on a peace officer – in an anti-Trump protest would have their cases dismissed.
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This is not surprising, says Banzhaf, since nearly all of those arrested for criminal behavior during the protests received nothing more than citations.
Too many people apparently believe that it is permissible, perhaps even protected by the constitution, for those sincerely concerned about a cause to deliberately block traffic, throw paint, and engage in other so-called “non-violent” protests – although for some the definition of “non-violent” may even include stealing from stores and setting fires to cars since it’s “only” property damage, says Banzhaf.
The professor has successful urged that protesters engaged in criminal protests like blocking bridges and highways be sued civilly by those trapped in their cars as an added deterrent, since small traffic violation fines rarely prove effective. As one example, there are now two civil law suits against those who trapped people in their cars by blocking entrances to the George Washington bridge.
But prosecuting criminals for felonies with real prison time is obviously more effective, especially since most civilians are understandably reluctant to pursue civil lawsuits against the lawbreakers.
So long as the consequences seem to be little more than a slap on the wrist, Inauguration Day rioters are encouraged to commit crimes as part of their protests. Trashing stores, blocking bridges and highways, and setting cars on fire trigger far more media coverage for their cause, attracts far more public attention than marching and other lawful protests, and is obviously far more exciting for those who crave a thrill. Indeed, some guys have admitted to doing it largely to meet and impress girls, notes the professor.
In the past, some protesters have even welcomed being arrested at a demonstration, seeing it as a badge of courage and conviction. Sometimes they were even able to turn their trials into very effective soap boxes for their causes by raising defenses such as “necessity,” self defense, etc. This may be coming to an end, suggests Banzhaf.