Almost six months after President Donald Trump was sworn in, the more than 200 protesters who organized in the country’s capital to protest his inauguration are now facing up to 80 years in jail and felony charges.
Al Jazeera reports that the 212 protesters who were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department were first charged with felony rioting, which carries a $25,000 fine and a 10-year jail sentence. However, charges of urging to riot, destruction of property and conspiracy to riot were added to the charges on April 27 by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
The prospect of long-term prison sentences could deter future participation in rallies, especially when anti-Trump activism is at an all-time high. Although it’s not known if other police departments will react to political protesting the same way, a dangerous precedent has been set. The demonstrators’ First Amendment rights may have been violated since the legal actions target anti-Trump protest movements.
23-year-old Olivia Alsip told Al Jazeera that she never imagined participating in an anti-Trump protest could land her in prison for 80 years: “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.”
Like other defendants in the case, Alsip doesn’t live in Washington and the cost of traveling back and forth for court is adding up. “Most of us don’t have a whole lot of money,” she said. “Generally we are fighting the rich because we are economically or politically disadvantaged and don’t have a lot of capital.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has described the new laws “unconstitutional,” vowing to “fight in statehouses against any bill that violates the First Amendment.”
Although some defendants have pleaded guilty to get shorter sentences, almost 130 defendants have agreed to a “points of unity” agreement pledging to reject all plea deals. 21 defendants have filed motions to have their case dismissed on May 26.