SOMERVILLE (CBS) -- Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone wants charges dropped against a group of protesters who brought traffic to a standstill on Interstate 93 in Somerville and Milton last January.
Protesters locked arms, even encased them in cement barrels during morning rush hour to take a stand against the treatment of unarmed black men by law enforcement.
The protesters face a laundry list of charges including disorderly conduct, trespassing, and resisting arrest and could face up to 90 days in jail and thousands in fines. Lawmakers have also proposed making it a felony to block highways in the aftermath of the protests.
"To offer jail time to individuals who committed no violent act, were exercising their constitutional right, is that justice? I submit it is not," Curtatone told WBZ-TV.
Mallory Hanora is one of the so-called "Somerville 18" facing the possibility of jail time and fines. She was among those in Somerville District Court Thursday asking a judge for leniency.
"We're hoping the charges will be dropped. We're hoping this action is viewed as a principle action toward addressing racism," she said.
Fifteen defendants are due back in court Oct. 29, two are facing trial in December, and another had his case continued without a finding in exchange for community service. Protester Angela Davis said she understood the consequences of the protest, but "This is very important to us."
Curtatone believes their tactic to lay down on a crowded highway could be debated, but believes they opened an important dialogue.
Commuter Michael Silva believes "the book should be thrown at them" because ambulances trying to transport patients were delayed getting to hospitals during the highway shutdown.
"They disrupted many people's lives and could have gotten other people killed like that gentleman who couldn't get to the hospital," he said.
Commuter Dwayne Creech remembers being stuck for two-and-a-half hours, but doesn't believe the potential punishment fits the crime.
"I don't agree with what they did, and the way they went about dealing with it, but 90 days in jail I think is extreme," he said.
Curtatone says he won't specifically ask the district attorney to drop the charges, but has voiced his opinion and hopes it is heard.
There's been no comment from Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.
for more features.