The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia recently dismissed charges against all remaining people arrested for the destructive protests against President Trump on his inauguration day. Originally, 234 people were arrested for allegedly participating in acts of vandalism that included setting fires and smashing storefronts with bricks and crowbars, resulting in injuries to 6 police officers. Some of those defendants pleaded guilty, some went to trial and were either acquitted or had hung juries, and the rest had their charges dismissed.
The reason why so many of these people were allowed to go free makes sense: the government was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the people arrested were actually the people who committed the acts of vandalism. Videos from body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras were not clear enough for jurors to definitively identify the vandals, and the defendants successfully argued that they were just protesting peacefully and shouldn’t be blamed for other people’s actions.
However, it still remains true that someone set the fires and smashed the storefronts in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day. And it’s a defeat for justice and fairness that the people who did that – aside from one defendant who was sentenced to 4 months in prison – will escape punishment.
The wrongfulness of the vandals’ conduct has been largely ignored by anti-Trump folks in their celebration of the dismissal of the charges. For example, Natasha Lennard at The Intercept praises the protesters’ “united front” which “meant the government could not weaponize co-defendants to bolster their weak case.” She mentions that the innocent defendants must have been tempted to “assert that they were in fact the law-abiding ‘good protesters,’ while actively condemning and drawing attention to the actions of a few window-breakers” and praises their decision not to do this.
But condemning the actions of the window-breakers is exactly what the other protesters should be doing. To destroy the property of innocent people is morally wrong. By failing to condemn the property damage, the anti-Trump movement is essentially saying that the property damage is okay. No one should be okay with, or want to be associated with, people who decided that their hatred of Trump and his policies was more important than the rights of innocent people.
Countless people have been arrested and imprisoned for “victimless crimes” that should not be crimes at all, such as drug use, driving without a license, gun possession without a license, and failure to pay taxes. Destroying innocent people’s property, on the other hand, is precisely the type of action that the legal system was created to punish. It’s unfortunate that in this case, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine with certainty who perpetrated the barbaric actions of inauguration day. But that doesn’t make those actions any less wrong. As D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said, “In the American criminal justice system, sometimes the bad guys win. That’s what happened in this case.”