As thousands of charges against people who protested this year against police brutality land in courts across the nation, a vast majority are being dismissed, reports the New York Times. Only cases involving substantial charges like property destruction or violence remain. Prosecutors called the scale of the mass arrests and mass dismissals within a few short months unrivaled since the civil rights protests of the early 1960s. With the police detaining hundreds of people, the arrests ended up colliding with the limitations of the court system. Prosecutors declined to pursue many cases because they protesters were exercising basic civil rights. Cases involving free speech or free assembly rarely succeed in court, and the pandemic played a role. Thousands of minor cases threatened to swamp courts already floundering under hefty lockdown backlogs.
“Every day I would think I was done and the next morning there would be 50 or 100 cases to tally,” said Mary Ellen Heng, a deputy city attorney for Minneapolis. So far the city is pursuing 75 of 666 cases. “This is the hangover from months of protests,” said Ted Shouse, a Louisville defense attorney who helped to organize more than 100 volunteer defense attorneys. Protest leaders and defense attorneys accuse the police of piling on charges to halt the demonstrations. “It was to squelch dissent,” said Attica Scott, the only Black woman in the Kentucky legislature and one of the protest organizers detained by police. Defense attorneys in some places said more people of color than white people were charged. The Louisville Courier-Journal found that Blacks constituted 53 percent of those arrested there in four months starting May 29, but that they faced 69 percent of the felony charges. The cases are referred to as being in the “parking lot.” There are 22,000 such cases, with just four of 10 trial courts functioning.