LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The ringleader of a group who admitted to firebombing several police cars in Arkansas during the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd has been sentenced to five and a half years in federal prison, while three of his co-defendants were sentenced to 18 months each.
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Mujera Benjamin Lung’aho, a North Little Rock community organizer and activist who pleaded guilty in August to one count of malicious destruction of a vehicle by means of fire, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday.
Emily Nowlin, Aline Espinosa-Villegas and Renea Goddard were also sentenced in the case on Thursday. A fourth defendant, Brittany Dawn Jeffrey, was sentenced last year to time served after 17 months in pre-trial detention for her involvement.
The defendants were charged in the firebombing and attempted firebombing of police cars in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Shannon Hills and the Arkansas State Police headquarters, and with defacing gravestones in Oakwood Historic Cemetery and a billboard.
All five were accused of damage inflicted on public property, including slashing tires, firebombing and attempting to firebomb police cars, that occurred during protests in the summer and fall over the police killings of Floyd and other Black people. Floyd's death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests in 2020 over racial injustice and police brutality.
In addition to the prison sentences, Lung’aho will serve three years of supervised released while his co-defendants will serve a year and a half.
U.S. Attorney Jonathan D. Ross called the firebombings “a troubling escalation of gratuitous violence that seeks to stoke embers of anarchy in our community.”
“The Constitution protects our rights to peacefully assemble. But make no mistake, when you use violence to advance your agenda, the Department of Justice will make every effort to put you in prison," Ross said in a statement after the sentences were handed down. "Anyone engaging in such criminal activity will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a lengthy statement, Lung’aho said his lack of apology was not because of a lack of remorse but “because there is a documented history” of people protesting “in the right way” but gaining little ground.
Lung’aho said his remorse was “for the effect my actions had on my community.” Lung’aho said he believed his actions were necessary to draw attention to what he believed were “injustices inflicted on the Black community.”
Before announcing his sentence, U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall said that although Lung’aho’s actions did not qualify as violent crimes, “this was violent,” and he said the prosecution of Lung’aho was lawful.
“Our law cannot tolerate the violence that was engaged in,” he said. “I see nothing in the conduct of the United States contrary to the cause of justice.”