The right to protest is under serious threat in America and the case of the #Jax5 is one of the first tests of whether we are going to protect it. These five Jacksonville protesters have been hit with outrageous charges including inciting a riot for organizing and participating in a peace rally that was attacked by Trump supporters. This follows a wave of legislation being introduced around the country to criminalize protest. We have to draw a line here and now.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson has so far refused to stand up the the police who beat, hospitalized and charged these protesters. Like too many prosecutors, she is willing to do the dirty work of a corrupt police force that criminalizes free speech and criminalizes Black people. But we are turning the heat up on the State Attorney on Monday when we are joining a rally to deliver our petition at her office. So far, over 50,000 Color Of Change members have signed the petition but we want to reach 75,000 to increase the pressure on Nelson.
Read the email Rashad sent a few days ago below for more info.
Freedom of speech is becoming even more of a crime under Trump’s reign. This weekend during an anti-Syrian war protest, a Trump supporter antagonized peaceful protesters, storming the speakers’ platform and physically assaulting them to start a fight. Instead of helping, four police officers tackled and brutalized the action organizer Connell Crooms, one of a few Black protesters present, and hit him so hard they knocked out his hearing aid. Bystander video footage shows officers beating him while he flailed helplessly and handcuffed on the ground. One officer punched Connell five times while other officers pinned him down.1
Connell was hospitalized and, along with other protesters, charged with inciting a riot and battery on a police officer. The Trump supporter who started the violent confrontation walked away scot free. Pinning bogus police endangerment charges onto protesters is exactly the outcome Trump desired when he introduced his Blue Lives Matter Executive Order in February.2 Trump and his supporters, like the Fraternal Order of Police, are using scare tactics to stifle peaceful protest. But we will not be silenced!
What happened to Connell exposes the long-standing intolerance and deep hostility Jacksonville has for protesters. When watching the footage, if it weren’t for their uniforms, it would be difficult to even tell the police from counter-protesters because the physical attack on Connell matched the verbal attacks being thrown at him by Trump supporters.
Just a few weeks ago, the city’s Sheriff was exposed for using internet software to surveil residents as they exercised their right to protest. Police tracked people using words like “protest” and “Black Lives Matter” on social media. Officers would even go as far as videotaping demonstrations and taking facial pictures of those in attendance. Jacksonville law enforcement appears to have forgotten that peaceful protest is a first amendment right in this country–not a crime. 3
Last election cycle, State Attorney Nelson beat out incumbent Last election cycle, State Attorney Nelson beat out incumbent Angela Corey, who sentenced domestic violence victim Marissa Alexander to 20-60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex in a desperate attempt to protect herself and children.4 Corey sentenced Marissa to 20 years in prison, but her case was overturned and Marissa was eventually forced to take a plea deal in order to gain her freedom. By ousting Corey last November, Floridians made it clear that they are tired of Black people being criminalized instead of protected by police. And Nelson must take heed of this message.
Rashad and the rest of the Color of Change team