Update on the Last Week
By Defend J20 Resistance
Verdicts for three of the current four defendants from the group who started trial on May 14th are currently pending, with the jury deliberating as we write this update. It was just announced this morning that one defendant was found not guilty on all counts and we continue to wait and hope that the jury will free three more of our comrades. It's been a dramatic week with so many rapid developments full of twists and turns that seems almost like a daytime TV crime drama. With a lot of news out there, we want to take a chance to give a brief one week summary as well as our own tentative thoughts and analysis of what transpired over just a few days.
As you may have heard from our buddies at Unicorn Riot and other sympathetic news sources, the US Attorney's Office was recently caught in serious violation of their Brady and Rule 16 obligations, which require them to disclose information that may be useful to the defense. Last week, Judge Morin indicated that, for withholding portions of the video provided to them by the right wing group, Project Veritas, the government would be sanctioned.
Yet again, and unsurprisingly, the US Attorney's Office has shown that it has little concern for the rules of the so-called justice system which it purportedly upholds. What is even more shameful is that the the actions of Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff and her team have possibly happened before, and similar forms of deception undoubtedly occur in courthouses across the country more often than we know. To be sure, the people most affected be prosecutioral deception are often not activists, but people of color facing crimes of poverty and the so-called
War on Drugs. The injustice of the criminal legal system extends far beyond the repression meted out against the J20 defendants, with one key difference being there isn't national media attention to put a spotlight on this kind of daily "misconduct" in the average criminal case. Yes, the prosecution lied about evidence, and that's a disgusting abuse of power, but we also reject the idea of "good" or "ethical" prosecution in a system designed to lock people in cages or keep them captive through other repressive institutions like parole/probation, electronic home monitoring, and living with felony records.
On May 31st, there was a hearing for the defendants scheduled for trial in the May 29th and June 4th groups. During the hearing, it became clear that the U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO) hid not one or a handful, but 69 recordings from Project Veritas, and had lied about it repeatedly in front of Judge Leibovitz, Judge Morin, and Judge Knowles. The USAO tried to pre-empt sanctions by moving to drop charges without prejudice (meaning charges could potentially be re-filed) against 7 defendants (all 6 set to start trial June 4th and 1 who was scheduled to start trial on May 29th) and reduce the remaining 3 defendants on the May 29th trial to 4 misdemeanors, changing the venue to a bench trial in front of a judge rather than a full jury trial. Due to the broad scope and ongoing nature of the Brady and Rule 16 violation, Judge Morin responded to the prosecution's motion by dismissing the conspiracy charges with prejudice and forbidding the government from proceeding on conspiracy charges or Pinkerton liability (the basis for the blanket property destruction charges) for all remaining defendants. Then, over the weekend, the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed that they would also dismiss the charges against the remaining three defendants from the M29 trial group. At this time, it is unclear how the dismissals will affect all 44 remaining defendants scheduled to go to trial this summer and fall. During the hearing last week, Morin stated that the conspiracy to riot charge was being thrown out for "all defendants"; however, lawyers have expressed different and varying opinions and it is unclear what the fallout from this ruling will be. The dismissals are a victory--and it there's a strong possibility that the conspiracy ruling will have a positive impact on remaining cases--but we are by no means out of the woods. This remains a serious case with dozens of people facing multiple felonies and we will keep up this fight until every defendant walks free.
Also on May 31st, in a separate courtroom, the trial which began May 14th against four defendants culminated in closing arguments despite the important rulings and massive changes in the case occurring in other court rooms. Attorneys for the defense brought up the Brady violation issue early Thursday morning and Judge Kimberly Knowles stated that she is still "undecided" on whether the sanctions against the prosecution would affect the defendants currently on trial. She announced that she would defer judgment on the motion for mistrial. However, Knowles still has the power to rule on sanctions even once a verdict is announced. Around 4:30 pm, the defense and prosecution finished their closing statements, with the prosecution's closing arguments echoing almost verbatim those used in the November 2017 trial. Some who were present in the courtroom reported that the prosecuting attorneys looked visibly shaken and emotional, as their closing statements seemed disjointed and ultimately fell flat, despite their attempts at melodrama. One such dramatic tactic was to play audio of glass breaking, montaged together in no discernible order. Before his closing statements, Michael Basillas's lead attorney, Billy Jacobson, renewed the motion for mistrial. After the closing arguments concluded and the jury had left the room, the judge read a note left by a juror. The juror said she had seen “Google jury nullification” written in a bathroom stall. She proceeded to Google "jury nullification" and discuss what she learned with the rest of the jury. Curiously, neither defense nor prosecution pushed for mistrial as a result.
On June 1st, the jury for the four defendants from the May 14th group continued to deliberate. At the end of the day, another juror reported to the judge that he saw a twitter headline that confirmed his intuition about the prosecution and made him question the prosecution's ethics and credibility (many LOLs from those of us who've doubted this all along). The prosecution pushed for the jury to be bumped off due to "tainting the [jury] pool," but the juror was allowed to continue.
We are overjoyed and celebratory about the dropped charges and relish in the humor of watching the US Attorney's Office fumble in its home arena (apologies for the sports analogy). However, we find it hard to get too excited about these recent changes when so many J20 defendants are still facing charges. Furthermore, we see how state repression continues and extends far beyond this case. For example, our friends in Hamilton, Ontario face new arrests and conspiracy charges, as well as the ongoing cases against Glo Merriweather and Rayquam Borum of the Charlotte Uprising, multiple cases that mirror in many ways the repression against J20 defendants and repression historically faced by anarchists and those who rebel against the state and capitalism.
Trumped up charges are often used to slow down, distract, and silence resistance, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with all those who oppose state repression. We know that charges against the J20 defendants, while atypical, are just another tool in the state's toolbox. The J20 experience isn't particularly unique or exceptional; countless people face the agony of the criminal legal system every day. It is a system designed to break people’s spirits and punish through its isolating, expensive, and stressful process full of fear, uncertainy, and loss of freedom. Certainly, race, gender, citizenship, and access to resources shape one’s experience within courts and prisons far more than notions of innocence or guilt. Courts, police, and prisons daily function to oppress mostly people of color, indigenous folks, and poor people in order to perpeuate global inequality under our capitalist system.
Supporters of the J20 defendants reaffirm our steadfast solidarity with the remaining defendants, regardless of the allegations against them or the way the state tries to divide us. These proceedings continue to show the government's case for what it is--a complete sham--and we are excited to continue to watch it disintegrate before our eyes. If you are in the DC area, please show up to court to support the three J20 defendants who await a verdict from the jury, and show up to the next trial, which begins on June 25th.
Live elsewhere? You can get more ideas for ways to show support at defendj20resistance.org.
Solidarity to all those resisting the expansion of pipelines across the continent, from the campaign against MVP in Appalachia to those fighting the Kinder Morgan Pipeline in so-called British Columbia. Solidarity as well to all those in France defending the ZAD as a space for autonomy; to anarchists in Hamilton, to Glo and Rayquan and every comrade facing down the court system in the so-called united states; to Leonard, Mumia, Marius and everyone on the front line of the fight on the inside; to student protesters in so-called Puerto Rico; and to all who resist empire and its destruction of our planet and its inhabitants.