One Black Lives Matter protester has been singled out with charges of false imprisonment after he was singled out during a protest in 2021 that blocked traffic on the 101 Freeway in San Luis Obispo, the local Tribune reports.
Last summer, Amman Asfaw and 300 other BLM protestors gathered near Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo. The group ended up marching several miles to the 101 freeway, where they blocked traffic in both directions for an hour.
Asfaw and the protest’s organizer, Tianna Arata, all face charges as a result of the protest, but Asfaw is the only one facing a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment. Asfaw’s lawyers want the charges dismissed saying that he was exercising his constitutional rights. From the Tribune:
Asfaw’s legal team filed an invitation to dismiss the charge Jan. 13, stating the activist was simply exercising his First Amendment right to free speech and freedom to assemble.
A person is said to commit false imprisonment when they restrain another person to a single area, restricting their free motion. That Asfaw is the only protester to face those charges when several others were arrested, though, is strange.
His attorneys are also claiming racism, saying the DA is singling Asfaw out because he is Black. They point to the misdemeanor charge as an example of that:
To utilize a statute designed to prevent people from holding a person hostage and apply it to a Black Lives Matter activist who participates in a rally is an egregious abuse of prosecutorial discretion aimed at chilling free speech,” the filing said.
In his defense, Asfaw’s lawyers claim that he didn’t block traffic. Instead, he was in the crosswalk near the freeway. In the filing, they claim that a white sedan attempted to literally push him out of the way. Other protestors rushed to aid him by standing between him and the vehicle to prevent him from being run over. They even claim that Asfaw thanked the driver for hearing him out.
One part of their defense, though, is really shit. I’d fire my lawyers for saying something like this:
They said the event equated to a minor inconvenience for the driver of the white sedan and lasted about “six minutes less than the time Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd.”
There’s no connection at all there.
The DA claims that Asfaw did impede traffic. In a response to his lawyer’s filing, the DA says that not only did Asfaw and the protestors block the driver (who they say was attempting to do a U-turn before the protestors stopped him), but they also forced the driver to listen to their message. The DA says that those actions could be defined as “detaining motorists,” something Asfaw had no right to do. They also claim no racial bias, as Asfaw wasn’t singled out — he was just the easiest to identify out of the 300 people. They also pointed to others who aren’t Black that have been charged. But again, Asfaw is the only one to have been charged with false imprisonment.
The DA office is declining to drop the false imprisonment charge with a trial-setting conference set for May 6, 2022.