On Jan. 20, during the inauguration of President Donald Trump, 230 people – including 12 from Philadelphia – protesting that day in Washington D.C. were arrested en masse and charged with a variety of crimes, ranging from destruction of property and assault of a police officer to inciting a riot and conspiracy to riot.
If convicted, each of the protesters – most charged under the Federal Riot Statute – arrested that day could be sentenced to serve more than 60 years in jail each.
On Saturday, supporters of those arrested at the Jan. 20 inauguration descended on the Philadelphia Museum of Art with music and giant puppets in hand for a dance party/protest in the hopes of showing solidarity with the protesters and to bring awareness to the cause.
“It’s important to stand up for people’s right to protest,” said Sean Damon, an organizer of the event.
On the day of the inauguration, according to CNN, protesters broke storefront windows and damaged bus stops, and rocks were thrown at police, allegedly injuring six police officers.
However, Matthew Fitzpatrick, of West Philly, one of the 12 Philadelphians arrested that day, said that officers didn’t take time to only arrest protesters who were actively engaged in vandalism or violence.
Instead, he said, officers cornered groups of protesters and arrested everyone they could grab, charging all of those arrested afterward with similar charges.
“We were cornered and rounded up by police,” said Fitzpatrick. “It was like how a shark catches fish.”
After Trump was elected, Fitzpatrick said, he decided to travel to Washington D.C. during the inauguration in order to join protests against the Republican candidate’s ascendance to the presidency.
“I felt like I needed to be there,” he said.
He said he protested peacefully that day, yet he was arrested with hundreds of others, and he was held for two days before being released. Saturday’s protest was held to bring awareness to Nov. 20 and Dec. 11, the dates in which the first groups of those arrested during the inauguration will be brought to court.
“People are going to walk. The charges will be dismissed,” said a hopeful Damon, on the upcoming court dates.
Early in the day’s event, the protest/dance party was slightly truncated as members of the Philadelphia Police cordoned the protesters off to a thin – about 10-foot wide – strip of sidewalk in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, telling organizers that they couldn’t be on “private property.”
“We are here to have a dance party today, and they are like ‘nope,’” joked Damon.
For about an hour, the protesters – and their large puppets depicting Donald Trump, a riot gear-clad police officer and an elderly woman – were pushed back towards Eakins Oval, away from the museum’s iconic steps.
However, after some research and discussion with police on the scene, Damon celebrated as the protesters learned they were indeed permitted to use the entire sidewalk, and the officers moved aside to allow the protest/dance party to spread throughout the area a little more.
During the day, protesters re-enacted the arrests on Jan. 20 by making the riot officer puppet “abuse” a protester and shoot paper streamers of “mace” into the crowd.
Later, they danced along to chants of “hey, hey, no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
“They think they are going to win by scaring us,” Rachel Russell, a fellow Philadelphian who was arrested on Jan. 20, told the gathered crowd. “But, we are going to win by sticking together.”
The protesters are calling for all charges against the hundreds of protesters arrested that day to be dropped, as Damon said. Prosecuting the individuals arrested could not only cause so many people to go to prison for protesting but would also set a dangerous precedent in, what he called, “collective punishment.”
He said that if these individuals are indeed convicted and sent to prison, after they were arrested indiscriminately while attending a protest, it could indicate anyone could be arrested at any time, anywhere in the country, if they attempt to simply exercise their right to protest.
“It’s a chilling possibility,” he said. “It’s just ludicrous. … It’s absurd.”
To learn more about the J20 and those working to support the hundreds of people arrested during the protest of the inauguration of President Trump, visit defendj20resistance.org.