Twenty groups protest anti-protest efforts that are happening locally and statewide
(Plain Press, January 2022) Defending Democracy and Dissent, along with 20 other organizations, held a protest on Saturday, December 4th, that began on Public Square and ended in front of the Justice Center. The protest highlighted recent efforts to criminalize peaceful protesting in Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio.
The protest highlighted the following:
Bogus Felony charges
Felony charges that never should have been brought against Sydney Yahner. Sydney Yahner had been charged with felonious assault by County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, punishable up to 15 years in prison, as a result of yelling through a megaphone at a peaceful protest in July 2020 outside the Town Hall Restaurant. She allegedly caused permanent hearing loss to a Town Hall Restaurant hostess who was inside the restaurant. The charges were dropped a few days before Sydney’s trial on November, 2021, when it was discovered that the hostess suffered no hearing loss. Nevertheless, Sydney Yahner suffered traumatic and financial losses for a felony charge that should have never been brought.
Criminalizing peaceful protest
There are three bills –HB22, HB109 and SB41– that are working their way through the Ohio General Assembly aimed at stifling and criminalizing peaceful protests. The provisions in one or more of these bills include the following: 1) Making it a 1st degree misdemeanor to do any form of civil disobedience or even to hold a protest without a permit. 2) Making it a 2nd degree felony for individuals who organize or provide other active support for protests that are deemed illegal. 3) Organizations that actively assist (funding, transportation, training, etc.) an illegal protest could have their assets seized or be forced to disband. 4) Making it a crime to divert or obstruct an officer’s attention in a way that inhibits, deprives, or restricts the control of a detainee, e.g., yelling at a police officer or getting too close to a police officer when making an arrest. 5) Making it a felony for vandalism of public property including defacing public property using chalk or erasable magic markers.
Rally organizers want to see a restoration of the rights to peaceful protesting. “Following the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock protests, there has been an assault and criminalization of peaceful protests locally, statewide, and across the country that cannot exist in our democracy,” said Randy Cunningham, a Defending Democracy and Dissent leader.
Organizations Co-sponsoring the event included: Defending Democracy and Dissent, Organize! Ohio, Cleveland Jobs with Justice, Serve The People Cleveland, Ohio Community Rights Network, Council Of Elders, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition, Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, Democratic Socialists of America, InterReligious Task Force on Central American, Black Spring Cleveland, Ohio Student Association, Utilities for All, Ohio Poor Peoples Campaign, Life Ripples Ministries Global Faith Community, Heights Christian Church, Clevelanders Against Federal Policing, Social Justice & Environmental Advocacy Ministry, Our Voices Together, and Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio.
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