Drop the Federal Charges on Erie Protestors

U.S. Department of Justice, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman

(Image by DeShaunae Marisa) Drop the Charges Against Melquan Barnett!

To: U.S. Department of Justice, Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Kaufman

We are organizations and community members of Erie, Pennsylvania united in supporting the movement for Black lives and in recognizing the harm that the several criminal charges towards community members who participated in that movement will bring.

Last year Erie saw some of the largest – and most violent – protests in the city’s history. The response from Erie police was alarming, resulting in some cases to serious harm to people who were protesting. Erie police unleashed the very violence that the protestors were in the street that night to demand an end to.

During and after this protest, several people were arrested for charges ranging from property damage, for throwing projectiles at police, to arson around the Ember+Forge coffee shop on State Street. The federal authorities decided to focus on prosecuting these people, and worked with a police department that made national news for the brutality it inflicted upon the people, including the beating of a detained woman while she was on the ground, to make their case.

The federalization of charges for Melquan Barnett, in particular, sets a frightening precedent and represent an attack on the people’s right to assemble. Former Attorney General Aaron Barr's Justice Department, with the help of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, elevated his charges to malicious destruction of property. This charge carries a minimum 5 years of prison time and a maximum sentence of 20 years if he is convicted.

Barnett, a father and laid off forklift driver, is an important part of his community and takes care of his younger siblings. With Barnett already struggling as many are as a result of the economic and health crisis, the charges being intentionally set up high are placed this way to be difficult to negotiate down.

Although what brought many out in the streets that day was the harm that is being brought down upon our community at the hands of police, the media presented that the problem was the people protesting it, and overstated the harm done by the events of the night. Hannah Kirby, the owner of Ember+Forge who was the alleged victim of the riots, has written a letter and issued a public statement emphasizing that she does not fear for her safety from Melquan Barnett and others, but is afraid of those who are demanding that the punishment for them be as high as it is now.

For the Department of Justice and Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman, we would like for you to commit to dropping all charges against protestors who acted for Black lives last summer. Barnett and others often only have misdemeanors and have never been convicted of violent crimes in their past, a felony conviction and record would only be continuing the nonstop persecution that young, Black, working class people already face. It would put added, life-long barriers on to them, doing far more damage than the protest ever did. We ask that you commit to this now.

Thank you,

Drop the Charges for Erie Protestors (Members):

Erie County United

Erie Equal

Erie Action

Equity Coalition of Erie

Petition by

To: U.S. Department of Justice, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman
From: [Your Name]

Dropping the charges against Melquan Barnett and other protestors who have been arrested on federal charges is an important step towards justice. The Erie community stands united in demanding that this goal is achieved, and ask that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney's Office concretely commit to reducing racial inequities, with dismissing all protest-related charges against those who took action for Black lives in 2020 being part of this agenda.