Although Washington D.C. remained fairly peaceful throughout Donald Trump’s inauguration, at least two hundred people were arrested for crimes related to damaging property and inciting violence – and among them were a number of journalists.
According to city ordinance, if a riot breaks out that results in serious injury or damage that exceeds $5,000, law enforcement can arrest “every person who willfully incited or urged others to engage in the riot” and charge them with felony rioting. However, many are now claiming that D.C. police simply rounded up everyone in the vicinity of damage being done to a Starbucks and Bank of America, regardless of their affiliation with the vandals.
They arrested everyone in a single location including reporters, lawyers, law students and non-riotous protesters,” Mark Goldstone, a lawyer representing about 50 of those arrested told reporters.
“They basically identified a location that had problems and arrested everyone in that location.”
At least six journalists are claimed to be among those charged with felony rioting, which faces a potential penalty of up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Three NBC journalists as well as some others were allowed to leave the corralled group police took into custody. According to them, police officers told them that their names had been provided by their superiors as members of the press. Others attempted to present their press credentials to dispute their detainment, but were processed nonetheless.
Tim Pool, founding member of VICE news, was among those released by law enforcement without charges, and he took to Reddit to answer questions regarding the situation on Wednesday.
When asked by a commenter if he felt he had been treated fairly by police on the scene, Pool responded, “I would. This was one of the first times an officer talked to people being arrested.”
“This is a situation where a large organized black bloc is destroying cars, windows, spray painting everywhere,” Pool continued. “The police decided to hold the whole group and sort it out later. The idea of mass arrest sucks, but when people form a black bloc specifically to avoid the police’s ability to target those causing destruction the only thing they can do is wrap up everyone and sort it later.”
Pool answered another question posed about the other journalists that were not released, and why he thought they had been held while he hadn’t.
“If they had stayed where I was and acted the way I did I am 90% sure they would have been released immediately.”
Many of the journalists claiming to have been wrongly arrested work independently, such as Aaron Cantu, who works as a freelance journalist who has written for outlets such as the Washington Spectator, but like some of the other journalists that were arrested, he also claims to be an activist.
“These illegal acts are clearly designed to chill the speech of protesters engaging in First Amendment activity,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, a member of the National Lawyers’ Guild claimed. Her organization has accused DC’s police department of “indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone” and of illegally using tear gas on protesters.
The arrest reports of at least five of the journalists charged contain identical language, saying “numerous crimes were occurring in police presence.” The reports go on to say, “The crowd was observed enticing a riot by organizing, promoting, encouraging and participating in acts of violence in furtherance of the riot.”
Of course, being charged is not the same thing as being convicted, and the US attorney’s office that is prosecuting those charged has stated that they’re willing to consider new evidence regarding each of the people who were arrested.
“Based on the facts and circumstances, we determined that probable cause existed to support the filing of felony rioting charges,” William Miller, a spokesman for the office, said in an official statement. “As in all of our cases, we are always willing to consider additional information that people bring forward.”
Image courtesy of Reuters