By Sandra Harris
The Biden Administration is seeking terrorism enhancements on top of charges against two protesters in Brooklyn who were arrested during last year’s May Uprisings against police brutality. Facing the heightened persecution from Biden’s Justice Department are Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis, two lawyers accused of throwing a molotov cocktail at an empty New York Police Department vehicle on May 29, 2020. Both pled guilty to one count of possessing and making a destructive device in October.
Rahman and Mattis’s sentencing is scheduled for February 8, 2022, where they face a maximum of ten years in federal prison as a part of their plea deal. The federal judge overseeing the cases stated he would seek terrorism enhancements against the two lawyers, which would lead to even longer prison sentences if applied.
When arrested in May 2020, the lawyers faced charges that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years in prison. According to Rachel Barkow, a law professor at New York University, Rahman and Mattis’ guilty plea avoids this aggressive mandatory minimum, but the terrorism enhancement could increase their prison sentence tenfold.
While similar property destruction charges would typically be prosecuted locally, the US imperialist State under Trump pursued federal charges against Rahman and Mattis, as it has done with many other protesters for Black lives. Rahman and Mattis are two of more than 350 people still facing federal charges from the May Uprisings, according to the National Lawyers Guild.
Biden has continued the imperialist State’s crusade to label and persecute protesters against police brutality as ‘terrorists.’ The terrorism enhancement can be applied to anyone the State determines is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”
Rahman and Mattis are first-time offenders, which would usually result in lower charges. Bourgeois commentators have pointed out that the fact that no one was injured would also typically mean a lighter prosecution. However, in political prosecutions, the State is even less likely to follow its own conventions and seeks to make an example of those who take militant action against the racist, oppressive US imperialist system.
Terrorism enhancements are being applied against other progressive activists charged with property destruction as well. Jessica Rezniceck, an environmental activist who pled guilty to one count of conspiracy for damaging the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, received a terrorism enhancement from a federal judge this past June, increasing her prison sentence to eight years. This occurred the same month as Biden’s National Security Council published its “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.”
Biden’s report lumps together progressive and revolutionary movements with reactionary violence all under the guise of “domestic terrorism,” stating, “It is critical that we condemn and confront domestic terrorism regardless of the particular ideology that motivates individuals to violence. The definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ in our law makes no distinction based on political views—left, right, or center—and neither should we.”
As imperialism slips deeper into general crisis, the State will only continue to grow more reactionary, expanding its tools to repress revolutionary and progressive movements. Biden’s Justice Department seeks to apply terrorism enhancements to those who rebel outside of the bounds of bourgeois legality, to divide protesters along the lines of peaceful and violent, isolating militants from the people. The people can not fall for this trap. Unwavering support for political prisoners is a necessity in these conditions, along with the vigorous defense of all protesters whom the State targets for fighting against this dying system.
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