Journalist Aaron Cantú Faces Up to 75 Years In Prison for Covering Inauguration Protests

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Aaron Cantú, a staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and an editor at the New Inquiry, was arrested along with 230 others in January when he was covering the inauguration protests as a freelance journalist. The six other journalists arrested and charged with rioting have since seen their charges dropped, but charges against Cantú have mysteriously expanded; the Daily Beast reports that millionaire Trump supporter John Boswell, who was arrested for sexually assaulting a maid in his inauguration hotel room and booked in jail around the same time as Cantú, managed to get off with six months probation and a $50 fine.


Cantú, whose work has been published in Vice News, The Guardian, and The Nation, joined over 200 others facing fairly incredible charges. A report published by the DC Mayor’s Office of Police Complaints noted that during the clash between anti-fascist protesters and police, “some arrests may not have been carried out according to the Standard Operating Procedures, and that less than lethal weapons were used indiscriminately and without adequate warnings in certain instances.” The PCB report also read that “it seems that proximity to the area where property damage occurred was a primary factor, based on OPC monitor observations that many arrested seemingly did not meet the description of the majority of those who appeared to engage in property destruction.”

From the Beast:

Where he previously faced only 10 years in prison, a grand jury indicted him last week on eight felony counts including riot, incitement to riot, conspiracy to riot, and five counts of destruction of property. He now faces 75 years in prison.

The dramatic escalation of Cantú’s charges mirrors those of approximately 200 other people arrested during the protests. These defendants, many of whom are named in a mass indictment, are accused of conspiracy to riot. As evidence against the accused, the indictment cites dubious “overt acts” including some protesters’ decision to bring “goggles to eliminate or mitigate the effectiveness of crowd control measures that might be used by law enforcement” and some protesters shouting “‘Fuck it up,’ ‘Fuck Capitalism,’ and ‘Whose streets? Our streets’ prior to, during, and after acts of violence and destruction.”

John Boswell, the Beast reports, was recently allowed to vacation in the Bahamas while on probation last month.

These charges come at an alarming moment for journalists and for protestors, the latter of whom have seen a skyrocketing number of anti-protest bills cropping up around the U.S. from members of a political party whose love for “free speech” seems to mostly be limited to racism. Journalists, meanwhile, are “the enemy of the American people,” according to the president, and the GOP has readily followed suit; as you may recall, after a newly-elected U.S. congressman assaulted a reporter for asking him about the Republican healthcare bill, Republicans were notably timid in their condemnation.

“Journalists are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism. But the reason for Mr. Cantú’s arrest, however, seems to be exactly the same as the other six journalists who have now seen the charges against them dropped,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote in a letter to D.C. U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips in February.

“They were covering protesters and were therefore in the vicinity when a few of those protestors apparently threw rocks or smashed store windows with hammers But being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included. Journalists routinely run toward the center of any action, so they can better serve the public by reporting an event they personally witnessed, rather than something recounted by bystanders.”


Cantú is scheduled for arraignment today.

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.


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