The vast majority of citations and charges against George Floyd protesters were ultimately dropped, dismissed or otherwise not filed, according to a Guardian analysis of law enforcement records and media reports in a dozen jurisdictions around the nation.
But some prosecutors and law enforcement observers charge that departments carried out mass arrests as a crowd control tactic, as a means to silence peaceful protesters, and as a public relations strategy designed to turn the public against demonstrators by making them appear more violent than they were. And what’s more – some of the citing officers never witnessed the protests in the first place.
“It sends a message that you might get arrested if you express your views and first amendment rights,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project. “Police absolutely should not be relying on mass arrests to control a crowd or silence people who they disagree with.”
In most of a dozen jurisdictions examined, at least 90% of cases were dropped or dismissed. In some cities, like Dallas and Philadelphia, as many as 95% of citations were dropped or not prosecuted.
In Houston, about 93% of citations were dropped; in Los Angeles, about 93% of citations were not filed. The prosecutor’s office in San Francisco dismissed all 127 cases related to “peaceful protest-related charges”, though data for more serious citations was not available.
Officials did not file charges for nearly all low-level offenses, like disobeying curfews, while they most often pursued cases with strong evidence of more serious crimes, like assault or looting. Still, data shows that a majority of felony charges were also dropped, which some prosecutors said was due to a lack of evidence.
The analysis does not include federal charges, and the figures are estimates that will change as the remaining cases play out in court. Police sent citations to a patchwork of agencies and departments in different cities where prosecutors, mayors or city attorneys largely made the call to drop charges.
Mayors in every city except Detroit dropped all citations over which they had jurisdiction. The administration of Mayor Mike Duggan, a former prosecutor, pursued a high number of low-level misdemeanor charges or ordinance violations, even though the demonstrations were largely peaceful. But district court judge Larry Williams Jr dismissed more than 100 cases because police refused to provide basic evidence, such as body-cam footage.
In most instances, Detroit officers who wrote tickets were not at the protests and didn’t actually witness the alleged crimes, said the National Lawyers Guild and Detroit Justice Center attorney Rubina Mustafa. Instead of continuing to attempt to prosecute with shoddy evidence, the city earlier this year dropped nearly 300 more citations, but has still pursued dozens of charges against protest organizers. All told, 93% of Detroit cases have been dropped.
Among those still facing charges is the Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor, who said the mass arrests across the country are “all about intimidation” of people who vocally oppose police brutality: “It says something about the nature of policing when that’s a uniform tactic.”
The mass arrests were also part of a public relations campaign by Duggan and the Detroit police chief, James Craig, to paint the protesters as violent agitators and undermine their messaging, a strategy used by police in cities across the nation, said Tyler Crawford, the National Lawyers Guild director of mass defense.
“What they try to do is spin it and say ‘Look at how unlawful protesters are as is evidenced by all of these arrests that we’ve made,’” he said. “Then they hope people have stopped paying attention after six, 10, 12 months when prosecutors say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to drop these charges because these people shouldn’t have been arrested.’”
In Dallas, where more than 95% of cases were not filed, police represent an exception. The department dropped about 675 charges stemming from one protest because “the spirit of service to which the Dallas police department is committed would not be exemplified by moving forward with charges,” leadership explained in an August report. Still, it sent nearly 200 charges to the prosecutor’s office, of which about 85% were dropped or had not been filed as of September, though a department spokesperson did not know the outcome of eight cases.
In Philadelphia, police sent over 1,700 charges to the city and the office of the district attorney, Larry Krasner. Mayor Jim Kenney and Krasner dropped or are poised to drop about 95% of the charges, including all ordinance violations. Krasner is handling a large portion of the more serious misdemeanors and felonies with a restorative justice program that involves dropping charges upon completion of the program. It includes a mix of meeting with victims, community service and referrals to job and education programs. Only about 80 of the most serious charges have so far been filed.
“Police were making arrests as a form of crowd control, so in many instances there were no criminal charges to file,” a Krasner spokesperson, Jane Roh, said. “In other instances, there was simply not enough information to proceed on opening a criminal case.”
The number of dropped cases are also relatively high in cities that witnessed more violence. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, more than 90% of cases were dropped by November, though a local Black Lives Matter leader told the Guardian that hundreds of charges that police made since then remain in legal limbo. Portland has also seen recent violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement. Still, only 15% of nearly 1,100 cases have been filed and 82% have been rejected by the Multnomah county prosecutor, Mike Schmidt.
In New York City, more than 5,000 summonses that police wrote citywide for low-level offenses were dismissed by a summons court, according to the court’s chief clerk. Though the precise percentage is unclear, the National Lawyers Guild attorney Gideon Oliver, who coordinated defense for many of those cited, said the “vast majority”, if not all, of summonses were or will be dismissed. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s prosecutor dropped 83% of 136 more serious criminal cases, and Manhattan’s prosecutor dropped about 64% of nearly 1,000 cases.
The mass arrests overwhelmed already strained criminal justice systems by forcing them to contend with processing thousands of protesters. That resulted in delayed arraignments and kept high numbers of inmates crowded in small New York jails for up to days at a time during the pandemic, Crawford said.
“The police response created this whole additional public health crisis that wasn’t something people talked about much, but, in the moment, that was one of the biggest issues we were concerned about,” he said.
Moreover, forcing the criminal justice system to process thousands of cases based on flimsy evidence that probably would not result in prosecutions represented an enormous waste of tax dollars and time, observers said.
“That’s not what the government should be doing,” Eidelman said. “It points to an excessive use of governmental authority.”
China has joined Russia as an explicit danger to Western allies after a Nato summit in Brussels on Monday (14 June).
“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” the 30 Nato leaders said in a joint communiqué.
“China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems,” the statement added.
“It is also cooperating militarily with Russia, including through participation in Russian exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area,” it said.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg highlighted the novelty of the text in his post-summit press conference.
“The first time [ever] we mentioned China in a communiqué and a document in a decision from Nato leaders was 18 months ago,” he noted, when Nato spoke of China-linked “opportunities and challenges” back in 2019.
“China’s not an adversary,” Stoltenberg noted.
But he also expanded on the list of its threatening activities.
“They [the Chinese] already have the … second biggest defence budget, and already the biggest navy, and they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities, including by investing in new disruptive technologies such as autonomous systems, facial recognition and artificial intelligence, and putting them into different weapon systems,” he said.
“They are really in the process of changing the nature of warfare,” Stoltenberg said.
He rejected the idea that Nato, whose core task was to defend the North-Atlantic region, was overstepping its treaty boundaries.
“To respond to the challenges we see that China poses to our security, is not about moving Nato to Asia … because we see that China is coming closer to us,” he said.
“We see China coming closer to us in cyber, controlling infrastructure in Africa and the Arctic, training together with Russia in North Atlantic waters,” he added.
The Nato pivot to China did not mean it had abandoned concern on Russia, whose malign activities, from waging war in Ukraine to blowing up warehouses in the Czech Republic, still dominated the communiqué, however.
“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual’,” the statement said.
China was named 10 times and Russia 62 times.
Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced a more China-friendly tone.
“Nato is a military organisation, the issue of our relationship with China isn’t just a military issue. It is economic. It is strategic. It is about values. It is technological,” Macron told press after the summit.
China was a “major power with which we are working on global issues to move forward together” as well as a “competitor”, he noted.
“It’s very important that we don’t … bias our relationship with China,” he said.
“China is not in the North Atlantic,” Macron added, going against Stoltenberg’s line.
“Russia, above all, is a major challenge,” Merkel also said, while noting the Nato communiqué reflected the fact the US was a Pacific-Ocean as well as an Atlantic power.
“If you look at the cyber threats, the hybrid threats, if you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, then you cannot simply negate China … [but] I do not think that we should overestimate the importance of this [Chinese threat],” she added.
For its part, China had not yet responded as of Tuesday morning.
The Nato summit came ahead of US president Joe Biden’s meeting with top EU officials in Brussels on Tuesday and with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
It signalled a return to normal after four years in which former US president Donald Trump had questioned the value of Nato and insulted Macron, Merkel, and others, while cozying up to Putin.
Back to normal
Nato’s mutual defence pact was “rock solid” and a “sacred obligation” for the US, Biden said.
“I want all Europe to know that … Nato is critically important to us,” he added.
“With Joe Biden … there is a clear understanding of the necessity of Nato,” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said.
“I was able to work with Trump. Of course, it was a bit more awkward … but with Joe Biden, it’s more natural again,” he added.
Meanwhile, Biden gave away little on what he might say to Putin.
But he sounded more dovish than hawkish by excluding the idea of a Nato membership action plan for Ukraine, on grounds “they [Ukraine] still have to clean up corruption”.
He also said Putin was a “bright” and “tough” adversary.
“I will make clear to president Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses,” Biden said.
The West needed a “robust dialogue” with Russia to “build a security framework for the European continent”, Macron also said.
The Tigray region in Ethiopia faces the grim prospect of a man-made famine. What can be done to end this slide into tribal conflict?
Alexander Mercouris, editor-in-chief at The Duran, and writer on international affairs with a special interest in Russia and law, and Dr. Kenneth Surin, Professor Emeritus of literature and professor of religion and critical theory at Duke University, join us in a conversation about the main takeaways from the G7 summit over the weekend, the proposal of a global minimum global tax rate of 15%, what impact this could have on multinational corporations, and whether we should be hopeful or skeptical about this considering how low the bar has been set for these corporations. We also talk about how many of the conversations were framed within the context of a confrontation with China, by proposing a plan to counter the Belt and Road initiative, and focusing on the issues in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Teodrose Fikremariam, cofounder of Ghion Journal, tells us about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, including the involvement of Eritrean troops in the conflict and why they are there, claims that there is a risk of a man-made famine in Tigray and how there have been episodes of collective punishment. We also talk about how this conflict has brought a new tribalism into the forefront, how the portrayal of the Tigray authorities as victims in Western media is not completely accurate, taking into consideration that they began hostilities, and how international multilateral and regional organizations do not have the capacity or understanding of the situation to work as honest brokers in the conflict.
John Feffer, Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, joins us to talk about the NATO summit taking place in Brussels this week, how the organization is yet again trying to redefine its mission and find its purpose, and whether they will be able maintain their membership as the justification for its existence seems to change every year. We also talk about the continued withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the establishment of permanent airbases in the region.
The public prosecutor in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia has accused General Denis Sergeev – a Russian spy who traveled to Barcelona two days before the October 1, 2017 unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence – of the attempted murder of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, his son Hristo Gebrev, and an executive of Gebrev’s company Emco Odd, according to intelligence sources consulted by EL PAÍS.
The three victims were poisoned after coming into contact with a chemical agent. Emilian Gebrev suffered hallucinations, vomiting and fell into a coma, remaining in hospital for three weeks. The incident took place in Sofia between April 28 and May 4, 2015, according to sources from Sofia’s public prosecutor.
Gebrev began to feel unwell, four days after Sergeev arrived in Bulgaria
In January this year, the public prosecutor accused three Russian citizens of the attempted murder, but did not reveal their names. A spokesperson from the organization told EL PAÍS that the secrecy was justified given that the country’s laws prohibit information being revealed from an ongoing investigation.
The Sofia public prosecutor subsequently issued three European arrest warrants and international arrest warrants with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in an effort to extradite the three accused Russians to Bulgaria, where they are facing charges of premeditated attempted murder.
The Sofia public prosecutor began to suspect Sergeev’s involvement in the poisoning after reviewing security camera footage of an underground car park from April 28, 2015. The video, which lasts two minutes, shows a man approaching a vehicle. According to the public prosecutor, “an FBI laboratory was tasked with doing an expert study to identify the person implicated in the crime.”
Security camera footage of the underground car park.
Dressed in a hat and gloves, the figure in the video loiters near the car of one of the victims. Investigators believe that the suspect applied a chemical agent to the vehicle in an effort to kill the arms dealer Emilian Gebrev.
Sergeev uses the false name Sergey Fedotov, and has been connected to dozens of destabilization operations in Europe and Asia. The agent, who is linked to the elite Russian military unit known as “Unit 29155,” is also on the radar of Spanish investigators. Last year, Judge Manuel García-Castellón of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, opened a sealed probe into the role the spy played while he was in Barcelona. As this newspaper revealed, Sergeev traveled to the Catalan capital on at least two occasions – on November 5, 2016 and on September 29, 2017, just days before the illegal referendum on Catalan independence.
According to the investigative website Bellingcat, with which EL PAÍS collaborates, eight agents from Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU, as it is known in Russian by its initials) were involved in the attempted murder of Gebrev, his son and the head of the Emco Odd production department. The Russian spies had traveled to Bulgaria using false names during the period in which the victims were poisoned.
At the end of April, 2015, Sergeev and his colleague Georgy Gorshkov arrived as tourists at a hotel complex in the city of Burgas, on the coast of the Black Sea. Another spy from the unit, Sergey Pavlov, arrived the same day in Sofia.
Four days after the Russians arrived, Gebrev began to feel unwell. The arms dealer initially thought he was suffering from tiredness and the flu, but he then began to feel a burning sensation, dizziness and blurred vision. He was taken to a military hospital in Sofia, where he fell into a coma. His son Hristo and the Emco Odd business executive also fell ill, and were taken to the same hospital, where the three remained for more than three weeks.
A month after being admitted to hospital, Gebrev and his son began having the same symptoms. According to Bellingcat, a urine test revealed that their bodies contained traces of two organophosphates, a toxic substance linked to pesticides.
According to ‘The New York Times,’ Unit 29155 is working to destabilize Europe
Sergeev and Gorshkov left Bulgaria the day after the first poisoning attempt. They flew first to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport in Turkey and then to Moscow. Pavlov returned to the Russian capital on a direct flight.
When former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the United Kingdom with the nerve agent Novichok in March, 2018 – an operation Western intelligence services attribute to Unit 29155 – Gebrev noted similarities between their symptoms and those he had experienced in 2015.
Although Gebrev’s company Emco Odd exported weapons to Georgia during its war with Russia in 2018, the arms dealer told Bellingcat that this was not why he was targeted by the Russian spying unit. According to Gebrev, his company sold less than 10% of all the weapons sold to Georgia by Bulgarian firms.
Another hypothesis from Bellingcat links the attempted poisoning to a power struggle between Bulgarian oligarchs. Gebrev told the investigative journalist network that he did not export weapons to Ukraine, which has been in conflict with Russia since 2014.
Western intelligence services connect 20 agents from Unit 29155 to the assassination of a Georgian citizen of Chechen origin in Berlin in August, 2019. The unit is also linked with the failed coup in Montenegro in 2016, which included a plan to assassinate the prime minister and a destabilization campaign in Moldova.
In October of last year, The New York Times reported that Unit 29155 is part of a hybrid war orchestrated by the Russian government that mixes military confrontation with propaganda, hacking and disinformation. According to the newspaper, the members of the unit are working to destabilize Europe, and are trained in operations of subversion, sabotage and assassination.