Are States Going To Prosecute Their Rioters? It Depends


Anders Hagstrom White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Footage of violent riots and rampant looting is coming out of nearly every major city in the U.S., but states vary wildly in their efforts to prosecute those responsible for the unrest.

While local police have had no issues arresting those engaging in violence, some jurisdictions have declined to prosecute them. Others, however, such as Texas and Missouri, are taking a far more strict approach and partnering with the federal government to press charges.

Arguably the most relaxed reaction to rioters came out of St. Louis, Missouri, where local prosecutor Kim Gardner refused to charge nearly 40 people arrested for rioting.

“In a stunning development, our office has learned that every single one of the St. Louis looters and rioters arrested were released back onto the streets by local prosecutor Kim Gardner,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt tweeted Wednesday.

Gardner’s brazen move led Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to announce a partnership with U.S. attorneys to prosecute the state’s rioters, most of whom were arrested in St. Louis. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Former Mayor Criticizes Local Governments For Allowing Riots)

“Those who seek to use these protests to destroy property and commit acts of violence, including those who come to Missouri from out of state, will be held accountable for their actions by federal and state authorities,” Schmitt said in a news release, according to Fox4. “Those acts of destruction and violence will not be tolerated.”

The partnership has already brought results in the state, with authorities pressing federal charges against two people this week. One man was charged with distributing information on explosives and other destructive devices. The second man was charged with intent to organize a riot.

Police in Chicago have arrested more than 1,500 protesters as well, but nearly 80% of them were charged with disorderly conduct, according to a local ABC affiliate. (RELATED: Ivanka Trump Blasts ‘Cancel Culture’ After WSU Disinvites Her From Commencement Over ‘Social Justice Issues’)

Of the 1,500, police only referred 235 to the prosecutors office for serious felony consideration, most of them gun cases. The office reportedly authorized 88% of the cases.

Some of the defendants have been tracked down thanks to social media. One case in Chicago arose from footage of a man dressed as the Joker movie character setting fire to a police vehicle. A tattoo on the man’s neck connected him to one South Side Chicago resident Timothy O’Donnell, 31. O’Donnell has now been charged with arson.

Prosecutors in California say footage of incidents will be the primary factor in whether rioters, looters and arsonists are ultimately charged and convicted for their crimes. The FBI has also issues a nationwide request for photos and videos that can lead to the arrest of rioters.

As it stands, there is no shortage of video evidence of crimes being committed all across the country, but it can take time for authorities to find the evidence on social media or news broadcasts and connect it to a local suspect.

“It’s going to be a while,” one California police officer told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We are hopeful.”

ST LOUIS, MO – JUNE 2: Graffiti is seen on a burned out 7Eleven after riots and looting overnight on June 2, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. Four police officers were reportedly shot in St. Louis overnight during violent clashes with protesters leading to looting and damage to local businesses. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken a similar approach to Missouri, partnering with the federal district attorneys in his state to prosecute violent rioters, especially those who are coming from out of state.

“Texans must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of having agitators, including those coming from out-of-state, hijack their peaceful protest,” Abbott and the U.S. attorneys said in a joint statement. “Today’s announcement will ensure there are harsh consequences for those breaking the law and that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The federal-state partnerships come as U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has made it a federal priority to prosecute those who cross state lines to participate in protests. (RELATED: ‘NO KNEELING’: Trump Slams Drew Brees For Apologizing Over Pro-Flag Stance)

Out-of-state protesters were responsible for inciting much of the violence and looting at the original demonstrations in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Other cities across the country have experienced similar trends.

President Donald Trump has pinned the blame on Antifa, an anarchist protest group that has been extremely active in inciting violence at the protests. Trump is currently seeking to declare the group a terrorist organization, though it is unclear how such a designation would affect a domestic group.