On Tuesday, January 16th, the executive board of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 passed an official resolution condemning the “arbitrary, overbroad detention and arrest of hundreds of citizens exercising their right to free speech” during the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017.
During the presidential inauguration last year, more than 200 individuals – including journalists, street medics, legal observers, as well as demonstrators – were surrounded and trapped by police, arrested and charged with the same six felonies and two misdemeanors, with a maximum penalty of up to 60 years in prison.
Over the course of the year, defendants have slogged through months of court dates and legal procedures. In the opening trial against the first group of defendants, which included an independent journalist covering the events that day, prosecutors admitted to having no evidence against any of the individuals but proceeded with the case anyway. A jury found all six defendants not guilty on all charges last month.
Yesterday, prosecutors announced plans to dismiss all charges against 129 defendants, but 59 people are still being charged with a number of felonies and face up to 70 years in prison.
“Several of our members were participating in protests that day, and it is only a matter of happenstance that they were not rounded up, thrown in jail and charged with felonies along with hundreds of others – simply for being there,” explained UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici. “While we are pleased that the Justice Department has chosen to dismiss charges against 159 of the defendants, the truth is, they should never have been arrested in the first place. Rounding up people and forcing them through months of legal headaches simply for being in the proximity of a protest is a clear violation of every citizen’s right to free speech.”
The resolution acknowledges the central role that protest and freedom of speech has held throughout the history of the labor movement. It further states that Local 400 “stands in solidarity with all protesters who face excessive and undue criminal charges.”
The resolution was approved by a majority vote of the executive board at a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. Local 400 has more than 3,500 members who live and work in Washington, D.C., where the protests occurred.
The full text of the resolution is below:
UFCW Local 400 Resolution in Support of Inauguration Protesters
WHEREAS, more than 3,500 United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 members live and work in the District of Columbia;
WHEREAS, we are proud that our membership reflects the broad diversity of political ideas and opinions of the nation’s capital and our great nation;
WHEREAS, the United States was founded by the courageous actions of political dissidents;
WHEREAS, the right to free speech and free expression of ideas is enshrined in the first amendment of the Constitution;
WHEREAS, the darkest periods of American history are characterized by the persecution of political dissidents by the wealthy and powerful;
WHEREAS, the labor movement was formed by workers bravely exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech;
WHEREAS, members of UFCW Local 400 at times participate in protests and other exercises of their right to free speech, including at the presidential inauguration;
WHEREAS, on January 20, 2017, when tens of thousands of citizens gathered in our nation’s capital to exercise their first amendment right to protest the inauguration of President Trump, a crowd of more than 200 individuals – including journalists, medics, and bystanders – were rounded up without warning and mass arrested without individuated probable cause;
WHEREAS, 190 of those arrested are now facing outrageously inappropriate and draconian multiple felony charges and up to 61 years of prison time for exercising their first amendment rights, and such reprisals constitute a dangerous chilling effect on the right to speak out and all forms of free expression;
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that UFCW Local 400 wholeheartedly condemns the arbitrary, overbroad detention and arrest of hundreds of citizens exercising their right to free speech while protesting the Presidential Inauguration;
LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED, that UFCW Local 400 stands in solidarity with all protesters who face excessive and undue criminal charges, and calls for the dismissal and/or reduction of all charges brought against them by federal prosecutors.