State-Targeted Innocence and the Crisis of Broken Objects: Remembering the 2017 Inauguration Day Protests in Washington, DC

CODE § 22–1322. Rioting or inciting to riot. (a) A riot in the District of Columbia is a public disturbance involving an assemblage of 5 or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct or the threat thereof creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons.


"Mass demonstrations should be distinguished from riots or revolutionary uprisings although, under certain (now rare) circumstances, they may develop into either of the latter. The aims of a riot are usually immediate (the immediacy matching the desperation they express): the seizing of food, the release of prisoners, the destruction of property. The aims of a revolutionary uprising are long-term and comprehensive: they culminate in the taking over of State power. The aims of a demonstration, however, are symbolic: it demonstrates a force that is scarcely used.

A large number of people assemble together in an obvious and already announced public place. They are more or less unarmed. (On 6 May 1898, entirely unarmed.) They present themselves as a target to the forces of repression serving the State authority against whose policies they are protesting.

Theoretically demonstrations are meant to reveal the strength of popular opinion or feeling: theoretically they are an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State. But this presupposes a conscience which is very unlikely to exist."

- John Berger, The Nature of Mass Demonstrations, 1968


For many of the participants who demonstrated on Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, it is difficult to forget the chemical irritants and flash bombs that assaulted the majority non-violent groups. Particularly for DC residents, the brutal treatment of protesters and indiscriminate arrests of Anti-Fascist demonstrators will forever be linked to locations that once signified everyday life. At locations such as 12th and L Street NW, demonstrators were swiftly reminded that, despite the apparent safety of a high-traffic municipal center, militarized police forces can and will occupy public space and will consistently protect property over people.

The inauguration day protests cast a horrifying cloud over the Women's March in DC the following day, in which chipper participants thanked the officers that did not hesitate to pepper spray elderly non-violent protesters and arrest medical volunteers, journalists, legal observers and innocent bystanders only hours before:

If we remain complicit in the widespread shaming of resistance movements through false claims of heterogeneity, which erases the work of BLM and LGBTQ+ activists, or that the protests were defined by thoughtless violence (personally, I will never mourn a Starbucks window), are we truly interested in creating a better future? Is racial segregation, violent systematic oppression, denial of human rights and outright murder of minorities less shocking than broken windows? Do you want to endorse the actions of police that not only assaulted helpless non-violent demonstrators but also fundamentally contradict the right to protest and freedom of the press just because you saw a trashcan on fire?

The moment I arrived at the DistruptJ20 protests, the peaceful gathering in Samuel Gompers Memorial Park was immediately bombarded with tear gas:

The only danger present was that of the state, whose war-ready weaponry and body armor swiftly plowed through chanting demonstrators. Despite the shocking brutality, row after row of protesters stood in the face of the riot police in solidarity, as simply existing in front of them was enough to warrant a blow from a baton, a rubber bullet, a face full of mace or verbal abuse.

At this point, my memory and those of my fellow resistors' are without validation from the media as outlets continue to shame the sacrifices of many demonstrators and volunteers that day; reducing the events to be some kind of anarchist paradise rather than a feat of solidarity and bravery. Today, all I can do to validate these activists and victims is to share our story and count the contradictions spouted by the police authorities:

“A spokesman for the DC metropolitan police said law enforcement had arrested 217 people by Friday evening while six officers suffered minor injuries including three officers suffering head traumas after being struck by projectiles. The spokesman also denied that officers had deployed teargas on protesters, despite media reports suggesting otherwise.” - The Guardian

As the Trump administration continues to burn the United States Constitution, it seems the only injustice that is of note for many Americans is the burning of a limousine. Meanwhile, some 230 people, including journalists as well as legal and medical volunteers, are being charged with felony rioting in Superior Court, facing a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both.

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“The police here always give three warnings to protesters before they give any action. In this case, there was nothing. There was no order of dispersal, no warnings. They just immediately brought out their batons and pepper spray without any warning. I don’t know at what point the District has devolved into using those kinds of tactics to get people to comply. I hope it’s not an indication of what this coming administration is going to be like for the rest of us, because that’s not how it’s been thus far with protesting in the district.” - Legal observer Ria Thompson-Washington of the National Lawyers Guild in an interview with Alan Pyke

“To have the U.S. Attorney slam down felony charges sends a really strong message that the government is willing to silence people, whether or not you were involved in criminal activity.” - American Civil Liberties Union D.C. chapter head Monica Hopkins-Maxwell said in an interview with Alan Pyke

If you were one of the demonstrators arrested at the Inauguration Day protests, please contact for legal support.

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EssaysAni Bradberry