Olivia Alsip’s twenty-fourth birthday this week will be tempered severely by ludicrously trumped-up charges which could find her — and more than 200 others — behind bars for some 80 years.
Thousands traveled to Washington, D.C., for the January 20 inauguration of President Donald Trump — a swearing-in untenable to many — in a weekend which saw bouts of violence, property destruction, and general mayhem.
“I am wondering if my 24th birthday next week will be my last as a free person,” Alsip told Al Jazeera by phone last week. “I’ve never in my life had such a painful and stressful experience. There are no words to convey the severity of this.”
But Alsip’s arrest en masse with more than 230 people should be considered the red flag for the eradication of rights and quashing of dissent in the United States — if not a dismal prognostication on the advancement of authoritarianism or a bleak flirtation with totalitarianism in glib star-spangled disguise.
Chaos occasionally erupted around the nation’s capital, as excessively-militarized police — dressed for riots and thus finding trouble at the drop of a dime — followed hundreds of thousands as they marched through the streets in protest of the reality show host-turned head of the most militarily-aggressive nation on the planet’s swearing in.
While, indeed, pockets of protesters allowed ire to justify the smashing of business windows or those of limousines, the takeaway from Inauguration Weekend’s activities generally did not match ominous warnings the district would burn.
As with massive movements in protest of police violence since the murder of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by police in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, the crowd size did not disappoint — yet, the largely vociferous and multi-faceted crowds in D.C. that weekend remained, on the whole, placid.
That fact did not dissuade police from a show of force untenable to the U.S. Constitution in both the letter in which it had been penned nor the spirit with which it was intended to be enforced.
Perhaps in frustration riots slated to occur never materialized — or as a display of a disgusting level of power levied to the badge — the Metropolitan Police Department abruptly cordoned off a city block, following the setting alight of a limousine one block away.
Then, officers clad in gear better suited for the streets of war-ravaged Syria moved in to arrest anyone unfortunately situated in that arbitrary boundary — including journalists, activists, and otherwise peaceful demonstrators intent only on expressing their displeasure with Trump’s election, sans violent uprising.
Without regard for who, precisely, had actually committed a crime, officers kettled the entire city block — disallowing anyone to escape for any reason, regardless of culpability.
No one, except for a select few corporate media presstitutes, was allowed to vacate the the newly-enforced blockade — many had no choice but to urinate on the asphalt of their confines. No one.
Then, the arrests began — and no matter the departure from the spirit of the law, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia later enhanced charges, bringing swift and decisive punishment against those otherwise exercising their constitutional rights to protest whatever ills the government might enact or tacitly undertake.
Now, hundreds of people — Alsip included — face up to eight decades languishing unnecessarily behind bars.
On April 27, Al Jazeera reports, that court upped the ante, thrusting down “new felony charges including urging to riot, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property, many of the defendants are facing up to 80 years in prison. Many other defendants, among them journalists, are facing more than 70 years.”
According to MPD spokeswoman Rachel Reid, responding to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, stated, “the arrests on Inauguration Day is [sic] the subject of pending litigation and… the MPD has no comment.”
Traveling to D.C. for the protests — at least, those effected in an irate peace — should not have impacted protesters like Alsip, much less journalists, over a weekend completely defunct in the teeth social media had promised.
“I’m pretty shocked by the impact it’s had on my personal life,” she told Al Jazeera of the stunning turn of events.
“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. It’s hanging over my head the entire time, which makes it really challenging. It hinders your ability to plan your life.”
That the prosecution of demonstrators and journalists has not just been permitted to continue, but amplify, emphasizes the apocryphal swinging of the pendulum against dissent in the United States — and its iterations in fascistic policy upon the withering of American empire around the planet.
Many of those appearing in Washington for the altogether impotent showing in support of the new president did not witness destruction and decimation touted on social media weeks beforehand — perhaps as a lucid response to expectations the crowds would be uncontrollable.
Nonetheless, those kettled by D.C. police did not bear the weight of guilt, much less any degree of complicity in outbursts of rage effected on the U.S. capitol.
Tight security and scrutiny marked every entrance to events where the new president and his supporters made themselves known.
For clarity’s sake, this journalist was present on the scene immediately prior to the burning of the luxury automobile, and just feet away from the kettled crowd now facing what in essence amounts to life sentences — simply for showing up. It’s more than likely precious few of those arrested and charged, if any, deserved this heavy-handed penalty.
Where enhanced charges can be a frequent tactic for killing dissent both here and abroad, that journalists and activists uninvolved in destruction and rioting face decades in cages represents the spurious nature of a “blatantly politicized” State.
Rights matter — unless those rights infringe on the proclivities of those who rule the State.
After all, where else could protections for protest be enshrined on a centuries-old document delineating their existence, but be forgotten when politically convenient to an establishment claiming to be anything but.
It would be pleasant to characterize the United States as the constitutional republic it claims to uphold, but would be a vacuous exercise in futility to believe it.
MPD planned to witness the destructive outrage it did, but to imagine journalists and activists otherwise absent blame found charged with crimes garnering heftier sentences than terrorists evinces every warning one must take heed of during the downfall of empire.
We are not pawns to be wiped from play — yet we take the punishment indicating that’s precisely where we stand.
Up to eighty years locked in a punishing cage await those unable to procure sufficient defense — but that’s the point we’ve reached in division.
That’s the point we’ve allowed our feckless amalgamation of Idiocracy and reality to reach.
That’s the point where it’s time to acknowledge we no longer inhabit a nation which can claim freedom as a talking point — and every reason to be vigilant against the coming storm.
Or vigilant enough to find nations more conducive to the freedom once espoused by a government so blind to the people’s will, it will indisputably lead to its downfall.
Image: ©Claire Bernish.