By the Drop the Charges Coalition
An unprecedented number of arrests followed the protests that erupted upon George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020. It’s difficult to know the exact number of people arrested during such a massive, distributed, and sustained uprising, but 14,000 is generally considered a reasonable number. The majority of charges were minor misdemeanors, such as curfew violations and blocking roadways.
Over the last year, many misdemeanor charges have been dropped — in large part due to organized efforts and overwhelmed courts whose functions were limited due to COVID. However, those with more severe charges, such as felonies and federal charges, still have potentially long and difficult legal battles ahead of them. It’s important to continue supporting people who continue to face charges now that the protests have subsided and are no longer making headlines.
The Trump administration initiated more than 350 federal charges against racial justice and police accountability protesters last year. Before the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, defendants from the George Floyd protests faced the most federal charges a protest movement has yet. Thousands joined the National Lawyers Guild to demand the Biden Administration drop federal charges against protesters. However, most of these charges still have not been dropped. President Biden has shown he has no qualms continuing the repression initiated by Trump. This should not come as a surprise, as Biden reiterated similar calls for “law and order” during the height of the protests for Black Lives last summer.
In addition, the Biden administration is implementing harsher tactics to punish those who fight back against systemic injustice. In June, Biden’s National Security Council released a 32-page document titled “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.” The document cites right-wing violence, including that of January 6 at the Capitol, as the reason why the federal government must crack down on “domestic terrorism.” However, the report reiterated the State’s intention to surveil and target anti-capitalist movements.
According to Michael Loadenthal, Executive Director of The Prosecution Project (TPP), data gathered by TPP shows that protesters demanding racial justice were typically charged more quickly and more severely compared to those charged due to their actions on January 6. Under the current system, anti-racist and anti-capitalist movements consistently face significantly harsher repression. A clear example of this is the case of Jessica Reznicek, a water protector who is serving an eight-year federal sentence for her direct action against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Her sentence was doubled because the judge overseeing her case applied a “domestic terrorism” enhancement despite the fact that the environmental justice activist’s actions didn’t harm a single person.
Now is not the time for complacency. We must recommit ourselves to fighting State repression by demanding that prosecutors drop these charges, broadly amplifying organizing pressure, and supporting political prisoners through letter-writing and financial support.
Below are updates on individuals, campaigns, and organizations across the U.S. fighting for protesters’ charges to be dropped. Such coordinated campaigns greatly improve protesters’ chances of having their charges dropped. So far, this hard work has paid off for hundreds of people, which is why we must continue to support these efforts.
To keep up with anti-repression campaigns and political prisoners from last year’s Uprisings, follow Drop the Charges. Please contact us if your organization would like to join the coalition, and/or if someone you know has had their charges from the uprising dropped. Use the hashtag #FreeThemAll and #DroptheCharges to support the campaign to get protesters’ charges dropped. The fight against State repression isn’t over until all charges are dropped!
- The Drop The Charges Coalition started in Austin last summer and a majority of the city’s 178 charges have been dropped due to the success of rallies, press conferences, and a petition targeting the District and County Attorney to drop the charges against all uprising protesters.
- The Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County collaborated to criminalize protesters last summer by charging protesters with felony gang charges, claiming the protesters were in a gang because they wore black and chanted anti-police slogans together.
- Mass Liberation Arizona responded by initiating the Drop the Charges MCAO (Maricopa County Attorney’s Office) campaign, which has led to all 39 cases from the uprising to be dropped with prejudice.
- Amidst historic protests like the burning of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, Minnesota Uprising Arrestee Support (MUAS) supported many arrestees and prisoners that are still incarcerated and awaiting sentencing, such as Montez Lee, Matthew White, and Jose Felán. Most local political prisoners from the uprising are from Minneapolis.
- Many charges, even low-level misdemeanors, have not been dropped in Atlanta. A network of organizations came together this year to continue to fight to drop all charges against protesters and create long-term support for those facing legal repercussions.
- Detroit Will Breathe is supporting the Shelby 5 who face felonies in Shelby Township, Michigan.
- After filing a lawsuit against the City of Detroit for Detroit Police’s violent response to protests, the City of Detroit responded to the lawsuit with a counterclaim and claimed the protesters were suing them as part of a civil conspiracy to injure cops and destroy property. CLDC and the Protect the Protest coalition submitted an amicus brief, and the Countersuit was eventually dismissed.
- The Tallahassee Community Action Committee are still fighting to get the charges of the Tally 19 dropped. The Tally 19 are a group of protesters who were protesting the grand jury decision last year to not indict police officers involved in the murder of three different Black men who were killed between March and May of 2020. At this protest, they faced a militarized attack at the hands of five different law enforcement agencies, and are facing charges with sentences ranging from one to 10 years.
- Almost a third of the federal charges from the uprising came out of Portland because many protests in the city occurred on federal property, and this was used to trump up charges against protesters.
- While almost half have been no-complainted or dropped, many of them have been pursued.
- Videos of police brutality in Portland were spread across social media, and many claimed that tactics used in Portland should be deemed illegal. In turn, CLDC and Oregon Justice Resource Center helped file civil rights lawsuits to combat State repression.
- Loren is a 27-year-old Diné man who faces up to 10 years in prison for making a comment in a private Facebook chat supporting the movement.
- He was released in May 2021 and then re-arrested a few weeks later for an unrelated disorderly conduct charge. He has been supported by Tucson Anti-Repression Crew.
- The Free Tianna Coalition formed to demand that charges be dropped against 20-year-old Tianna, who was followed and arrested on her way home by San Luis Obispo police due to being a part of the movement. She is being charged with a slew of felonies and misdemeanors.
- Drew is a 29-year-old Black man from Atlanta who was arrested in February 2021 after being accused of being involved in damaging a patrol car and the Georgia Department of Public Safety Headquarters. Atlanta Solidarity Fund posted his bond, and he was released on June 29, 2021.
- Joseth was arrested and held without bond for a month and a half after participating in protests demanding justice for Rayshard Brooks’ murder at the hands of Atlanta PD. Upon release, he was rearrested at a routine traffic stop and sentenced to a year in county jail. A fundraiser has been set up to support his fiancée while he is incarcerated.
- Jamie is a 22-year-old Black woman who was arrested at a BLM protest on July 4, 2020. Her own brother died at the hands of police, and now she is being targeted for protesting police violence. People can sign a petition to support her here.
- Jeremy, AKA Mohawk, is an artist and activist from Chicago who was arrested last summer after being accused of assaulting an officer. Now he struggles dealing with a faulty ankle monitor while confined to his home. He has a merch store where all proceeds go to the Freedom for Mohawk campaign.
- Anthony, AKA Ant, is a 29-year-old activist and community leader whose West Philadelphia home was raided by federal agents in October 2020. The #FreeAnt campaign raises awareness and funding as Ant continues to fight his case in the courts.
Urooj Rahman & Colinford Mattis
- Urooj and Colin are two Brooklyn, NY human rights lawyers who are facing 45 years to life in prison for being accused of damaging an empty police vehicle last May. They were held in solitary confinement until they were finally released on bond a month later, in 2020. They face up to 10 years in prison.
- Malik was arrested in Portland, Oregon as a result of uprising-related charges that were later escalated to the federal level. Despite the hard work of local anti-repression organizers, his bail was revoked. You can follow Malik’s support committee and stay tuned for ways to stand in solidarity with him, including writing letters to him.
- Melquan is Black father from Erie, Pennsylvania whose charges have been escalated to federal charges due to the alleged crime of “interfering with interstate commerce,” a tactic used against many protesters to trump up charges. If convicted, he faces a five to 20-year sentence. Supporters can demand his charges be dropped here.