White people really don’t like holding each other accountable for their actions. For the rest of us, getting killed by cops for counterfeit bills, getting absurdly long prison sentences for low-level drug possession, and even being incarcerated for crimes we didn’t commit is perfectly fine. For the majority of the white people who stormed the Capitol in an effort to undermine the will of Black voters though, a slap on the wrist will suffice.
According to Politico, a quarter of the 230 people who have been arrested and charged in relation to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 are only facing misdemeanor offenses. Cases related to the riot have flooded D.C.’s federal court, and federal judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys have all indicated that many of those charged with low-level offenses won’t face jail time.
“My bet is a lot of these cases will get resolved and probably without prison time or jail time,” Erica Hashimoto, a former federal public defender told Politico. “One of the core values of this country is that we can protest if we disagree with our government. Of course, some protests involve criminal acts, but as long as the people who are trying to express their view do not engage in violence, misdemeanors may be more appropriate than felonies.”
Well, see, there’s protesting, and then there’s breaking into federal property to stop a Constitutional process due to the lies of a broke-ass reality TV show host. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s a difference there.
Apparently, the struggle prosecutors are having is that while the charging documents go into how the rioters’ actions that day were a blow against our republic and democracy, many of the people could realistically only be charged with trespassing. While there are currently cases being built against the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other extremist groups who acted violently that day, those charges are more severe and will take more time to ultimately get to trial.
Prosecutors expect a wave of plea deals to hit in coming days, and having a large swath of the people who stormed the Capitol only get a slap on the wrist could be a bit of a shit show for the Biden administration, who have repeatedly said the actions of the rioters “borders on sedition.”
And prosecutors are facing pressure from judges to either back up their tough talk about sedition or put a lid on it. Michael Sherwin, the former lead Jan. 6 prosecutor, found himself rebuked by other senior prosecutors and Judge Amit Mehta last week for publicly flirting with the possibility of sedition charges when none had actually been leveled.
Former federal prosecutor Paul Butler said he hopes that those most troubled by the Capitol riot won’t recoil at the looming deals for many participants.
“The punishment has to be proportional to the harm, but I think for many of us, we’ll never forget watching TV Jan. 6 and seeing people wilding out in the Capitol,” said Butler, now a law professor at Georgetown. “Everybody who was there was complicit, but they’re not all complicit to the same degree for the same harm.”
A standard set of four misdemeanor charges prosecutors have been filed in dozens of the Capitol cases carries a maximum possible punishment of three years in prison. But that sentence or anything close to it is virtually unheard of in misdemeanor cases, lawyers said.
“Nobody goes to jail for a first or second misdemeanor,” Butler said flatly.
You know, I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard to find a Black person who went to jail over a first or second misdemeanor. If anything, the Capitol riot has served as yet another case study in how there are two different justice systems. Last year, we saw cops brutalize peaceful protesters; bills were crafted to suppress Black protest; and state legislatures hit protesters with felony gang charges or bogus attempted kidnapping charges, all because they said “Hey, stop fucking killing people.” In fact, just last week, a Black state representative in Georgia was arrested at that state’s Capitol for knocking on the governor’s door.
“A lot of Black or brown people, they don’t get the benefit of individual judgment or breaks,” Butler told Politico. “I think this will be a record number of white people who appear in federal criminal court in D.C. ... If they’re receiving mercy, the prosecutor’s office should make sure that same mercy will be applied to all the other people who they prosecute, who are mainly people of color and low-income people.”
Butler told Politico that he ultimately hopes the charges here will be a lesson in equity in terms of legal outcomes and how many federal cases are ultimately settled through plea bargaining as opposed to trials. “This could be a teachable moment here for the public,” Butler told Politico.