At the Sheer Mag record release show at Union Transfer in late August, lead singer Tina Halladay read a statement from the Defend J20 Resistance, a group of activists banded together to support the 230 people arrested in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day. This was not just a political band supporting a cause they were passionate about, though Sheer Mag has done plenty of that. Halladay, like many in the Philly punk scene, knows a bunch of those arrested personally. So it was a no-brainer that the organization would table at the show, raising both awareness and much needed funds.
While protests and even arrests at any presidential inauguration are pretty standard, what happened in 2016 is considered by many to be very much an over-the-top reaction by local and federal authorities. Most of the those caught up in the mass arrest were charged under the Federal Riot Statute and could be sentenced to up to six decades in prison if convicted.
Law enforcement officials say that the scope of the arrests were appropriate — as the Washington Post notes, interim police chief Peter Newsham told D.C. news station WTOP “we had a small of group of folks that had an intention of coming to Washington, D.C., and breaking the law. . . . And all the police officers were outstanding in the judgment that they used. They used the least amount of force necessary to bring those folks safely and respectfully into custody.”
But in an article about the protests that ran in Esquire Magazine this past April [“How the Government is Turning Protesters into Felons”], Mark Goldstone, an attorney for six of the defendants, referred to the charges as “unprecedented territory,” noting “In my over thirty years of practicing law, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Approximately a dozen of those arrested are from Philadelphia and almost all are connected to the punk scene here in the city. That scene has rallied around them, holding a slew of benefit shows and other fundraisers and also tabling and speaking at an even larger number of concerts. You might have seen people from the group at everything from Screaming Females at Johnny Brenda’s to Dead Milkmen at The Trocadero to your local basement punk show.
The first round of defendants are going to trial next week and the group is holding a rally this Saturday on the steps of the Art Museum to support them and demand the charges be dismissed. According to J20 supporter and legal worker Sean Damon, “This overzealous and dangerous prosecution of those who raised their voice against the Trump administration is a threat to us all.”
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