Occupy Wall Street protesters get arrested a lot, and for many different charges. Sometimes those charges are just plain silly. Most recently, a video’s been circulating of a guy in Lansing, Michigan getting taken into custody for violating an obscure law against wearing a mask. Oddly, it’s not even the first time that same charge has been used to take occupiers into custody. The site Occupy Arrests, which documents Occupy-related arrests nationwide, lists 5,980 as of Jan. 23.* Gideon Oliver, who represents Occupy with the National Lawyers Guild in New York, said via telephone that about 2,000 had been arrested just in New York City alone. Most of these arrests in New York and elsewhere, are on charges of disorderly conduct, trespassing, and failure to disperse. You know, the things you’d expect people to get nabbed for during a protest. But there are some pretty weird and obscure charges out there as well, showing the lengths to which some cities will go when frustrated by persistent protesters.
Lynching: Yes, you read that right. Lynching. If wearing a mask is the silliest charge, lynching is the most outrageous. An Occupy protester in Los Angeles got hit with lynching charges earlier this month, as did a group in Oakland on Dec. 30. But not for trying to hang anyone, as the term implies. According to MSNBC, “Under the California penal code, lynching is ‘taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer,’ where ‘riot’ is defined as two or more people threatening violence or disturbing the peace.” In this case, 30-year-old Sergio Ballesteros got charged with lynching for trying to stop police from arresting a drummer during a protest in Los Angeles, and the Oakland charges stem from the Oct. 25 raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment. It seems laughable, but it’s a felony that could bring a four year sentence for those convicted. So yeah, lynching’s pretty serious.
Felony Conspiracy: The charge of conspiracy itself is perhaps not all that obscure, but it came as a shock to occupiers in San Diego that they were being hit with felony criminal conspiracy charges for interrupting the mayor’s State of the City speech. Heckling officials during speeches is an extremely common thing for activists, including occupiers who “mic check" just about everybody who gets behind a podium. Police told Voice of San Diego that they added the conspiracy charges to the misdemeanors for disturbing a public assembly because the protesters had planned their actions in advance (Update: We hear the charges have since been dropped). There’s some recent precedent for this in California, actually. Back in September, a group of 10 Muslim students were found guilty of conspiracy for heckling the Israeli ambassador. The takeaway here: If you’re going to shout down somebody’s speech in California, you’d better do it spontaneously.