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ACLU of Oklahoma Condemns the use of Excessive Charges to Silence First Amendment Rights to Protest

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Publish 06/29/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 38 sec 

OKLAHOMA CITY — The news that District Attorney David Prater is pursuing politically based charges of terrorism, incitement to riot and assault dropped late Friday night. Word quickly spread of the excessive charges as many people leading the call against the especially violent Oklahoma City police were attending another demonstration demanding justice for Isaiah Lewis, who was murdered by Edmond police officers last year. David Prater’s use of discretion not to charge the white officers responsible for Isaiah Lewis’s murder, but urgent use of the harshest possible charges to retaliate against protesters is part of the broader injustice and systemic racism we join Black leaders on the ground in condemning.

Gilpin Law Firm“Oklahoma County District Attorney Prater’s invocation of the Oklahoma Anti-Terrorism Act against persons protesting the death of George Floyd is nothing short of an abuse of power. The charging decisions are inflammatory at best, and, at worst, deliberately unconstitutional. It is an unsubtle attempt to stifle free speech by over-charging individuals with anti-terrorism conduct and the implicit threat that, you too, can face serious anti-terrorism charges simply by being present during a protest. Prater is using the hammer of his office to intimidate people into not exercising their Constitutional rights while demanding justice and racial equality,” says Michael Redman, Interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “The harshest of these charges being leveraged against young Black men is part of the very problem the community has been protesting.

Oklahoma has a very different system of justice based on your race, and we must continue to protest that on the streets and in our courtrooms without fear of retribution.”TEDC Banner AdMost of the narrative of actions on the ground have circled around whether or not protests are peaceful, judging them based on property damage. It’s not the ACLU of Oklahoma’s job to place judgment on others’ feelings or reactions to the brutal murder of a Black man by a police officer or the violence of white supremacy in this country. Property damage costs are minimal compared to the money expended on excessive force and prosecutorial misconduct cases and are inconsequential when compared to the human lives lost at the hands of the Oklahoma City Police. Any conversation around such actions diminishes and diverts attention away from the reason thousands are protesting and demonstrating: to show their anger and pain at the senseless death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other Black men and women who have perished at the hands of law enforcement.

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“District Attorney Prater’s charging decisions while upsetting are unsurprising to those who have paid attention to the way he doles out justice,” says Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “Prater has a long history of refusing to hold police accountable, but uses his bully pulpit and charging discretion to silence constituents or force people into egregious plea deals. We’re looking at charges in this instance that have penalties up to life in prison. When we talk about the need to divest from law enforcement, prosecutors’ offices are absolutely included in that, and District Attorney Prater’s attempts to refocus the narrative on property damage rather than cries for accountability are evidence he is afraid of what accountability looks like for his office.”

If leaders truly listened and were committed to checking their own power and dismantling systemic racism – in our governments, our criminal legal system, our schools, and elsewhere – we could find a path forward. But we have to start by focusing on what the protests are about. And that is a system of laws and enforcement that treat people differently based on their race. We have to grapple with that before we can do anything else.

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We continue to join with our partners in the community in following the lead of Black Lives Matter OKC in asking that all charges against protesters be dropped. And encourage people to contact their elected District Attorney David Prater at (405) 713-1600 to join in that ask.

The ACLU of Oklahoma is committed to challenging racism, white supremacy, police violence, and a lack of accountability. We ask Oklahomans to continue to report instances in which their rights or liberties have been violated during protest actions to report that to either (405) 524-8511 or through our mobile justice app.