Report Shows DOJ Engaged In Selective Prosecution To Maximize Punishment For 'Black Lives Matter' Protesters
from the once-again,-DOJ-showing-it-really-should-have-the-word-'justice'-in-its dept
Under Trump, the DOJ did all it could to break the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement that took on renewed vigor last spring following yet another killing of an unarmed black person by a white cop. That’s according to a report [PDF] by The Movement for Black Lives, which examined BLM-related prosecutions headed by federal prosecutors.
The federal government deliberately targeted Black Lives Matter protesters via heavy-handed criminal prosecutions in an attempt to disrupt and discourage the global movement that swept the nation last summer in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, according to a new report released Wednesday by The Movement for Black Lives.
The report also points to the stark difference in how the government handled the COVID-19 protests against local government shutdowns and mask mandates amid the pandemic during the same period. It analyzes 326 criminal cases initiated by U.S. federal prosecutors over alleged conduct related to protests in the wake of Floyd’s murder and the police killings of other Black Americans, from May 31, 2020, to Oct. 25, 2020.
The report’s most damning conclusions point to a DOJ headed by Bill Barr — one that swiftly aligned itself with President Trump and his assertions the social justice protests were largely composed of criminals and anarchists, rather than peaceful protesters seeking to change an unjust justice system.
The report points out the federal government needlessly took control of prosecutions, exploiting loosely-defined “interstate commerce” statutes to bring federal charges against arrested protesters — charges that carried steeper sentences than similar state-level charges.
For example, the federal arson statute, 18 U.S.C. § 844, has subsections which not only vest federal jurisdiction over offenses against any property which belongs to an entity which receives any federal funding but against any property which simply affects interstate commerce. This report found that the broad parameters of the statute were heavily utilized against defendants who had allegedly damaged or attempted to damage local police vehicles, police precincts, or government buildings and/or property. Unfortunately, because federal courts have accepted such arguments in the past, the government’s argument to support a finding of federal jurisdiction in these cases on interstate commerce grounds was to simply assert that these local governmental entities affect interstate commerce. Where the government attempted to establish federal jurisdiction because the entity received some federal funding, criminal complaints would simply assert, often without any reference to government funding data, that the local government or police department received some form of federal financial assistance—as nearly all local governments and police departments do.
Federal prosecutors also used super-thin assertions about an interstate nexus to stack charges.
Prosecutors are charging Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal with four counts of arson for allegedly attempting to burn two police vehicles. Prosecutors are bringing multiple counts for each attempted arson by relying on separate provisions of the federal arson statute, claiming that the police vehicles belonged to a police department which received federal funding, which implicates 18 U.S.C. § 844(f), and because the same police vehicles affected interstate commerce, which implicates 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). As a result, Blumenthal now faces the possibility of being convicted on four separate counts, each of which carries a minimum sentence of five and a maximum of twenty years in federal prison.
Even the damage of local businesses by rioters was taken over by federal prosecutors, who used flimsy pretexts like the purchase of supplies from out-of-state suppliers to satisfy the interstate commerce requirements.
And, in one case detailed in the report, a man is facing felon-in-possession charges for carrying supplies capable of creating a Molotov cocktail. According to federal prosecutors, a Molotov cocktail (even in an unassembled state) qualifies as a “firearm.” And the interstate nexus was satisfied because the empty bottle was made by an out-of-state manufacturer.
Hoping to deter future protests by making ongoing protests as painful as possible for those arrested, federal prosecutors let their imaginations run wild.
Prosecutors are charging Tia Deyon for civil disorder for allegedly breaking the window of a city police vehicle in Mobile, Alabama. In order to argue that federal jurisdiction exists, the government used an unusually specious basis, even among the more egregious charges here. The government argued that her actions impacted interstate commerce because the larger group of protesters Pugh was a part of was moving in the direction of an interstate highway. The group never reached the highway, because local police preemptively shut down the on-ramps providing access to the highway. The government claims its own preemptive shut down of the on-ramps caused traffic delays and therefore impacted interstate commerce.
While the DOJ and the president said things about “violent protesters” (and unintelligible, unsupportable things about “dangerous antifa“), this was the reality of the situation. Even non-violent quasi-crimes were being exaggerated by federal prosecutors to ensure maximum punishment for minimal infractions.
Unsurprisingly, the data does not support the government’s claims of violence and intimidation. There are numerous cases where the federal government filed charges against people for conduct as minor as failing to obey an order from a federal agent, or for pointing a laser pointer in the direction of the police (not at a particular officer). In one Department of Justice press release characterizing the movement as hijacked by “violent agitators” based on 74 federalized criminal cases, 37 cases were for assaulting an officer—a misnomer when considering the offending conduct included things like pointing lasers at law enforcement or using, as federal agents themselves described, “flimsy” plastic shields in encounters with law enforcement; 17 cases were for failing to obey a lawful order, a nonviolent (in)action; and 11 of those cases involved charges for conduct so minor, the defendants were issued citation violations.
Predictably, most of these prosecutions originated in Portland, Oregon, the first place Donald Trump sent his federal
strikebreakers police force to handle protests in the so-called “anarchist jurisdiction.” And it wasn’t just about putting people who believe black lives matter back in their place. The DOJ’s selective prosecutions were also apparently politically-motivated, resulting in a different kind of overrepresentation in federal cases.
Of the 326 federal cases reviewed, 271 (83%) were brought in states with Democratic governors, with only 56 (17%) brought in states with Republican governors. […] This disparity is even more stark when considering that, at the time of the uprising, the proportion of states with Republican leadership (54%) exceeded that of states with Democratic leadership (46%).
The DOJ barely bothered to disguise its desire to disrupt the Black Lives Matter movement and quell dissent targeting law enforcement agencies. The man running the country made no attempt at all to disguise his contempt for everyone who questioned law enforcement agencies or the tactics of their officers. The stats compiled here make it clear the DOJ engaged in targeted prosecutions meant to deliver maximum pain to those the former president considered to be political or ideological enemies.