Protesters arrested for looting or rioting in several American cities appear to have been let off the hook as prosecutors drop charges or new laws put them back out on the streets quickly.
In St. Louis, the District of Columbia, Philadelphia and New York, serious charges against hundreds of people arrested for stealing and torching property have been dismissed. Those dismissals have come from the federal level in the nation’s capital, from district attorneys elected with millions in campaign cash from left-wing activist George Soros, and in New York from a bail reform measure that went into effect this year.
Some of the cases have triggered pushback from other prosecutors. In Missouri, for example, the state attorney general accused St. Louis’ top prosecutor of springing dozens of “looters and rioters,” while a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania argued the Philadelphia district attorney “has no interest” in holding people accountable for urban destruction.
“Folks are back out on the street and I think it’s shocking,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said of the situation in St. Louis, where a retired police captain was killed defending a friend’s store from looters and at least four other officers were shot.
At least 36 people have been arrested on felony charges related to violent protests in St. Louis since May 29, and every one of them had the charges against them dismissed, according to a St. Louis police department spokesman.
When rioting erupted after demonstrations against the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody last week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner promised, “I will use the full power of the law and my office [against] anyone who harms anyone in my community.”
Since then, however, all looting and rioting charges have been waived. Ms. Gardner was elected in 2016 with substantial financial backing from groups associated with Mr. Soros, who also provided financial support to activists in Ferguson, Missouri, after a black man was fatally shot in an altercation with a police officer there.
Ms. Gardner’s office did not respond to requests for comment, but she released a statement Wednesday night that said cases are only as strong as the evidence provided by arresting officers.
“Public safety in the city of St. Louis is critical,” the statement read. “A few cases involving stealing from the looting incidents were referred to our office. These matters remain under investigation.”
Mr. Schmitt indicated his office may pursue charges separate from Ms. Gardner’s office.
“Today we announced an unprecedented partnership between my office & federal prosecutors to send a message loud & clear: If you come to Missouri to cause destruction, loot or riot we will prosecute you,” he tweeted Monday. “We won’t allow you to terrorize our communities.”
That support would come through a current program between Mr. Schmitt’s office and the Justice Department in which Missouri prosecutors are sworn in as “special assistant U.S. attorneys.” The move was made because Ms. Gardner’s office “hasn’t been receptive” to multiple offers of assistance, said Chris Nuelle, press secretary to the attorney general’s office.
Mr. Nuelle said he has no reason to believe any of the people cut loose by the circuit attorney’s office have been re-arrested for participating in unlawful acts.
Mr. Soros’ money was also instrumental in the election of Lawrence Krasner in Philadelphia, where a Soros-backed PAC funneled $1.45 million into his successful 2017 district attorney campaign. Prior to winning that job, Mr. Krasner had never been a prosecutor and touted instead his considerable pro bono work for left-wing activist groups including Black Lives Matter, Act Up and many others.
Like scores of other cities, Philadelphia was rocked by violence, after Mr. Floyd died when former Minneapolis cops pinned him to the street and kneed him in the neck and back for more than eight minutes. Philadelphia saw cars set aflame and businesses looted.
On May 29, Mr. Krasner released a statement regarding “the murder of George Floyd and police accountability.”
“Prosecution alone will achieve nothing close to justice — not when power imbalances and lack of accountability make it possible for government actors including police or prosecutors to regularly take life or liberty unjustly and face no criminal or career penalty,” the statement said.
Mr. Krasner’s office did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment, but Wednesday night, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain ripped Mr. Krasner for what he said was his indifference to the brazen criminality and its victims.
“[We need] full-throated, unequivocal condemnation, and that’s certainly what I’m trying to do,” Mr. McSwain said on Fox News. “We have a specific problem in Philadelphia. Mr. Krasner is not at all interested in punishing these people or putting any of them in jail.”
In New York, where bail reform had already become a controversial law and order issue, the head of the New York Police Department’s union ripped into the policy Wednesday night. Speaking outside a hospital where an officer stabbed in Brooklyn was being treated, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch called the measure, which has limited a judge’s ability to hold someone arrested, “asinine.”
In the District, where the Justice Department handles the city’s prosecution, felony charges were also dismissed by the dozens, according to multiple reports.
The department’s D.C. office did not respond to a request for comment, but published accounts said federal prosecutors had dropped charges on scores of alleged rioters.
More than 400 people have been arrested in connection with D.C. disturbances since May 29, according to police and court records.
Of the 104 people arrested over the weekend, 50% of them were charged with rioting, but most had that charge dismissed or lowered to violation of curfew, a misdemeanor. It was not clear Thursday what had happened with the charges against the 307 people arrested since then.