Trump inauguration rioting charges dismissed for daughter of Elgin councilman

 
 
Updated 8/20/2018 4:30 PM
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  • Joan Steffen, 26, said she put her life on hold while facing rioting charges related to protests during President Donald Trump's inauguration. All charges were dismissed against Steffen, who is the daughter of an Elgin councilman.

      Joan Steffen, 26, said she put her life on hold while facing rioting charges related to protests during President Donald Trump's inauguration. All charges were dismissed against Steffen, who is the daughter of an Elgin councilman. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

The daughter of an Elgin councilman said being arrested and facing rioting charges over protests during President Donald Trump's inauguration has changed her.

"I didn't identify myself as an anarchist when I was arrested, " Joan Steffen said. "Now I definitely would."

All charges were dismissed last month against Steffen, 26, and the remaining defendants charged with rioting Jan. 20, 2017. Altogether more than 200 people were arrested. Steffen was accused of being among those who used so-called "Black Bloc" tactics -- wearing dark clothing and gear such as ski masks, gas masks and goggles -- to conceal their identities.

Steffen, who lives in Rhode Island, spoke with the Daily Herald last week while she was visiting family in Elgin. She said she didn't want to discuss her actions on Inauguration Day because the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be brought forward again. She was in Washington, D.C. to take part in the Women's March the day after the inauguration, she said.

"To hold a whole group accountable for a few individuals' actions is a way to keep people silent," she said. "Had I just read about this in the news, I would have had a different reaction. I think I would have fallen into the trap of (viewing people as) 'good protesters vs. bad protesters.' "

Steffen's father is Councilman John Steffen. Her parents, both lawyers, inspired her to get involved in politics, but her views are more radical than theirs, she said.

After her arrest, Steffen was held on the street for six hours and in jail for 36 hours, she said. During the next 18 months, she spent more than $10,000 in attorney's fees and trips to Washington, D.C., she said.

She took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) two weeks after her arrest but delayed applying to law school because of the uncertainty about her future. She and her boyfriend also delayed setting a date for a ceremony celebrating their relationship, she said.

She plans to apply to law school in the fall. Her recent experience has made her want to work in social justice and civil rights law.

"That's an upside of this whole thing," she said.

Steffen has participated in several protests over the years -- she even made a trip to South Dakota for the Dakota Pipeline Access protest -- but she's now somewhat fearful of doing that again, she said.

In the fall, she volunteered for the legal hotline of a Black Lives Matter protest in St. Louis and briefly participated in the protest, "but the second the riot cops showed up, it was like, 'I'm out of here,'" she said. "I hate that, but I think that's the intended consequence."

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