By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
On Sept. 17, Denver police arrested six activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, including four who are members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). According to the district attorney, all will be indicted on combined charges of 34 misdemeanor and 33 felony counts, including the incredible charge of “kidnapping” several police officers. The combined charges, if they are allowed to stand and result in conviction, could mean many years imprisonment for the six. The Denver arrests followed the arrests of three other activists in Colorado Springs, Col., on Sept. 10.
The six people who were arrested on Sept. 17—Joel Northam, Russel Ruch, Lillian House, and Eliza Lucero (all supporters of the PSL); Terrance Roberts (a Black community activist and co-founder of the Front Line Party for Revolutionary Action), and John Ruch—have all been active in Black Lives Matter protests, including events demanding justice for Elijah McClain. In the summer of 2019, McClain was murdered by three cops who put him in a chokehold in Aurora, Col. The cops remain unpunished and are still on the streets.
The arrests were staged to be as intimidating as possible. Ruch was seized while in the parking lot of a Home Depot store. An hour later, five police vehicles swarmed Lillian House’s car and pulled her over as she was driving. That afternoon, an entire police SWAT team stormed Northam’s home to arrest him. And Roberts was arrested while relaxing in a park.
In Colorado Springs a week earlier, Sherrie Smith and Charles Johnson were arrested—while Lloyd Porche was arrested in Denver—after police and FBI raided their homes. The three were charged with felonies for “riotous and illegal behavior.” The charges stemmed from an Aug. 3 protest demanding justice for De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old Black youth, who was shot in the back and killed by police on the same date a year earlier. The protesters temporarily blocked a road in the Pulpit Rock neighborhood of Colorado Springs near the house of one of the officers involved in Bailey’s death.
The charge against the six Denver activists of first-degree kidnapping refers to events at a July 3 protest in which a crowd of 600 people barricaded 18 cops in a police station in Aurora. The protesters demanded that the two officers who had detained McClain be dismissed and charged.
Four of the Denver arrestees are also charged with inciting or engaging in a riot. The district attorney alleges that the demonstration became a riot because protesters blocked the streets and the doors to the police station, which “created a danger of violence and property damage.” The charge is constructed to be in line with Colorado law, which defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs the performance of any governmental function.”
The 30-pages of affidavits against the arrested activists are reportedly based largely on police analysis of live-stream videos and social media posts by people in the movement.
After he was freed on bail, Terrance Roberts told Fox 31 news reporters that the arrests were politically motivated, and that he and the other activists facing charges weren’t present when so-called violent actions took place during the summer. “They’re blaming us for inciting a riot, starting a riot—but it’s a riot I was not there for.”
Roberts said that he and the other activists helped plan peaceful protests but never encouraged any unlawful acts. “I’ve never advocated for someone to break a window or break anything. I’ve never told anyone in a speech, ‘go hurt someone,’ or ‘go beat a cop.’ I’ve never advocated for anything negative,” he explained.
“We still need those officers [in the Elijah McClain case] arrested.” Roberts demanded. “We want them charged with murder. Not us—we should not be charged. We did not kidnap anyone. We have not put our hands on a single person.”
Attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said in a PSL online video defending the Denver arrestees: “The situation we are watching now is as historic as it could possibly be. We have on the one hand the people who murdered Elijah McClain, murdered Breonna Taylor, murdered Daniel Prude, murdered so many [who are] walking free. And the people who are being arrested—and prosecuted … are those who are willing to stand up and fight for racial justice.
“And make no mistake—this is an attack on a powerful movement that is sweeping the streets, a movement that is drawing millions of people into political life, many who were never engaged in these types of actions before. … They are trying to send a message to everyone that they must step back … to terrify people, to send a message that if you engage in social justice activism, you are risking life and limb to come out.”
On Sept. 19, over 1000 people gathered outside the Colorado state capitol in Denver to protest the arrests and demand that the charges be dropped. “When activist lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!” they chanted. Lillian House sent a message to the rally from inside the jail, stating, “We won’t be intimidated. This is so much bigger than me and so much bigger than any sentence you can give us.”
The Denver arrests are part of a heightened crackdown on protests and free speech in recent years that has been carried out by governments and police throughout the country. Since the Dakota pipeline protests in 2016, at least 25 states have enacted measures to clamp down on free speech, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law. The process of criminalizing protests, with a broader application of felony charges and heightened penalties, escalated this year in response to the surging of the Black Lives Matter movement following the police murder of George Floyd.
The attack on the movement by police and local governments has been urged on and facilitated by the “law and order” policies that are regularly blasted out from Trump’s White House. Trump’s directives were given teeth when the president sent federal agents to Portland, who proceeded to snatch peaceful protesters from the streets and bundle them into an unmarked vehicle. Federal marshals also participated in the raid on Portland activist Michael Reinoehl’s apartment on Sept. 3, shooting him down as he got into his truck. Reinoehl was accused of shooting a member of a far-right vigilante group at the end of August, but was never given the opportunity to explain his case to a jury.
Following the lines of a memorandum that Trump issued earlier this month, the Justice Department has now labeled the cities of New York, Seattle, and Portland, Ore., as jurisdictions “that have permitted violence and destruction of property,” targeting them for possible cuts in federal funding. The Trump administration has said that it is considering adding other cities to the list—a clear warning to local governments to follow its hard-line policies against protests.
Many local and state governments, with both Democrats and Republicans in office, appear to be vigorously embracing the extreme “law and order” policies advocated by the White House. The mayor of Louisville, Ky., a Democrat, is following the playbook, having just declared a state of emergency while citing the potential for civil unrest. The edict was released on Sept. 22 as the public awaited an announcement by the state attorney general as to whether he would charge the police officers involved in storming the apartment of Breonna Taylor on a “no-knock” warrant on March 13 and shooting her to death. In accord with the mayor’s action, the Louisville police department announced that the downtown area would be cordoned off, including barricading Jefferson Square Park, where peaceful protests of Taylor’s death have been held throughout the summer.
Elsewhere, Black Lives Matter protesters have received unprecedented charges for alleged infractions of the law. Some of the most onerous charges were lodged against five protesters (three of them in their teens) in July in Oklahoma County, Okla. The people were charged with terrorism for their alleged participation in burning a sheriff’s van and attacking a bail bond business during BLM protests.
In a highly staged military-style operation, which now has been echoed in Denver, New York City police carried out a raid on the home of a Black Lives Matter activist on Aug. 7. Derek Ingram, co-founder of the Warriors in the Garden collective, awoke at 7 a.m. to the sound of police banging on his door. For five hours, dozens of cops stationed on his fire escape and in a neighboring apartment demanded that he surrender, as helicopters buzzed overhead. Ingram turned himself in at a police station the following day. Charges were filed against him of second-degree assault (a felony), stemming from a June 14 demonstration when he allegedly yelled through a megaphone directly into the ear of a police officer.
Socialist Resurgence condemns the attempts by governments and police to repress the movement against police brutality, for Black rights, and for social justice. An attack on one (or several) is an attack on all! We urge our readers to sign the PSL’s petition to have the charges dropped against the Colorado activists; click here to sign.
The defense funding link for Sherrie Smith, arrested in Colorado Springs, is: https://www.anarchydadfundme.com/