Free speech, free press, free Molotov cocktails! Fire-starter claims 1st Amendment protection

The Washington Times:

The federal government says it was arson. The protester charged with igniting a Molotov cocktail outside the District of Columbia police station during the recent race riots says it is protected First Amendment speech.

Jarrett Jeremy Pace, on the night he set the fire, had said on Facebook he wanted to “burn a 12 station to the ground!” The number “12” is street slang for police.

But now, Mr. Pace argues in federal district court he was speaking metaphorically, that he actually tossed the firebomb on the street near the Fourth District police station rather than at it, and that his action was not meant to burn the station but rather to express solidarity with George Floyd and protesters in Minneapolis.

“Ranging from inappropriate to deplorable, fire has historically been used as an expression of speech,” Eugene Ohm, Mr. Pace’s lawyer at the federal public defender’s office, wrote in briefs asking for his release.

Arson cases are mounting daily as Justice Department prosecutors, under the urging of President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr, scour the last seven weeks’ protests, looking for cases to make into federal crimes.

On Wednesday alone, prosecutors announced charges against six men in New York, all accused of igniting fires aimed at government property in Rochester and Buffalo. Prosecutors in Seattle announced arson charges against a man they say set a fire outside a city police precinct there.

Mr. Pace was initially charged in superior court in the District but had the case sent to federal district court days later.

“I think it’s pretty clear why he’s elevated starting a fire on a street block to a federal crime,” said John David Betras, a lawyer in Ohio who has tracked some of the ongoing legal battles during the protests. “What the Justice Department is saying is ‘You want to protest, OK, we’re going to prosecute you federally.’”

Read more at The Washington Times

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