I-Witness Video’s summary of police abuses in St. Paul at the RNC

September 9, 2008

from Two Good Hands:

The following is an email from Eileen Clancy from the I-Witness Video Collective, offering their summary of the police attacks on protesters and the media at the Republican National Convention.

Date: Sun, 7 Sep 2008 23:20:52 -0400 (EDT) Subject: 2008 Republican National Convention Round-Up From: “I-Witness Video” <iwitness@iwitnessvideo.info>

Hello folks,

Here is an overview of what the members of I-Witness Video saw and experienced over the past week or so in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Regards, Eileen Clancy

for the I-Witness Video Collective

————–

Violence and cruel treatment directed at protesters by police; Journalists targeted for arrest, harassment, intimidation and surveillance

Police Violence in the Streets

The members of I-Witness Video have been appalled to see a high level of violence directed against peaceful demonstrators, medics, legal observers and journalists at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Concussion grenades, smoke bombs, CS gas (tear gas), rubber bullets and pepper spray were used to attack and herd demonstrators.

In particular, pepper spray was used excessively and indiscriminately to torment and punish demonstrators in a manner that violates widely accepted law enforcement standards. In one instance a man was pepper-sprayed while handcuffed and then punched in the kidneys. Peaceful demonstrators have been restrained and forced to kneel on pavement for hours after being pepper sprayed without being given medical attention. In another instance where pepper spray was used to preemptively punish a person who was perceived by police to be a protester, a lone street medic was entering her car when police drove up, sprayed a small fire extinguisher sized canister of pepper spray into her car, completely soaking her head to toe before driving away, leaving her gasping for air and collapsing. The medic was neither arrested nor charged.

Here is a clip showing police use of pepper spray. http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2008/09/05/protester.roughed.up.cnn?iref=videosearch

Abuses in the Jails

The treatment of arrestees in the jails has been shockingly bad, even grisly. Medical care has been withheld from many arrestees. In one instance a hemophiliac was offered gauze as treatment for a wound. Elliot Hughes, a 19-year old arrested while bicycling, was forced to wear a bag over his head while being gagged and beaten. Hughes tells his story at a press conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_h0ACIblaQ

(full clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PWy-rCM_SQ)

The punishment of arrestees did not end at the jailhouse door. In almost every instance, the Sheriff’s Department did not return any personal belongings to arrestees upon their release. Many, including under-age women and girls, were put out in the cold in the middle of the night wearing thin prison-grade shorts and a white t-shirt. Some were dropped off as far as five miles away from the jail without their house keys, car keys, cell phones, identification, or money. In some instances this meant that they were not able to access critically needed medication.

Targeting of Journalists

Many journalists working during the period of the RNC experienced obstruction, harassment and arrests. Thirty journalists were arrested including reporters from ABC News, Fox News, and Indymedia. On September 1, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, two producers from Democracy Now! were slammed on the pavement and against the wall, arrested and charged with a felony riot. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was also arrested and charged with interfering with a police officer. On September 4 Kouddous was arrested again, along with Democracy Now! producer Rick Rowley.

Harassment of I-Witness Video

Members of I-Witness Video were visited by the FBI and a Wisconsin sheriff, were falsely arrested without charges being filed, underwent a search under an invalid warrant, were threatened on the street by police officers, extensively surveiled by police officers with video cameras and followed by undercover officers.

Two days before the convention opened, St. Paul police surrounded the house we were staying in, effectively placing us under arrest for two hours. When a search warrant was finally produced, it was for the wrong house.

When we declined to allow them to search our house under an invalid warrant, they broke in and held us at gunpoint. We were handcuffed behind our backs and held in the backyard while the house and our belongings were searched.

During the same period three other member of the collective were detained while leaving the area on bicycles and two others in a car were pulled over and detained for four hours.

An excerpt of a video by the Glass Bead Collective shows the St. Paul police breaking into our house and pointing guns at us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5zPnUswIww

In a sinister progression of events, police officers arrived at our office building four days later with batons at the ready, carrying a battering ram and alleging that we were holding people hostage in the I-Witness Video office. A prompt response by National Lawyer’s Guild attorneys thwarted further police action. The unfounded and absurd allegation by police that hostages were barricaded in our office could have allowed them to enter our office without a warrant and possibly even shoot us.

Please check our website for updates – we will continue to let you know more about the 2008 RNC and DNC as we investigate further. # # #


Crowd control at the RNC: Fifty million unanswered questions

September 9, 2008

from the Minnesota Independent:

The RNC is over, and it’s not just Sarah Palin exhaling relief. The mayors of each twin city have issued their unanimous judgment of law enforcement actions during the daily protest rallies and marches of the RNC.

Their one-word summary: Convention police showed “restraint.”

Advocates for the hundreds, perhaps thousands of protesters (and a few journalists) who were pepper sprayed, maced, smoke-bombed, shoved, shot at (with non-lethal “impact rounds”), dispersed, cited, and detained have issued their own consensus message: See you in court.

The City of St. Paul had $50 million in federal money to spend on security for the RNC. Anybody on the streets of downtown St. Paul during the convention could have a close-up look at how some of that taxpayer money was spent, as police in riot gear showed off their tactical training and weaponry daily.

Members of the Minneapolis City Council have already called for an independent investigation with public hearings.

full article here


Fascistic New Normal in St. Paul

September 9, 2008

from Indymedia:

Reporter’s Notebook from the RNC
Fascistic New Normal in St. Paul

by Alice Woodward

August 29, St. Paul, Minnesota. Police in full riot gear raided the “RNC Welcoming Committee” (which described itself as “an anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body preparing for the 2008 Republican National Convention”) This raid, referred to in the media as a “pre-emptive strike,” marked the beginning of a weekend of terror and intimidation brought down by the state on activists, organizers, protestors, and journalists throughout the four-day span of the Republican National Convention.

Leading up to the anti-war protests planned during the convention, police raided several houses in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, surrounding them, and breaking down doors. The police told people to get down on the ground and shoved guns in their faces in the middle of the night while they were sleeping in their beds. Over the course of the weekend, five people were arrested in these raids, at least 100 were put in handcuffs and then questioned by police. At the Welcoming Committee’s convergence center, the police photographed people and held them for over an hour—no arrests were made, but materials were confiscated and the police issued a fire code violation.

Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, Minneapolis and St. Paul police, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies were involved. Police confiscated normal household items claiming they were going to be used for illegal activities. They searched through the houses and the welcoming center, taking computers, laptops and video cameras.

In the face of this outrageous harassment and intimidation thousands of people came out to protest. At Monday’s protest, police surrounded and detained hundreds of protestors arresting around 175 people including progressive journalist Amy Goodman and two of her producers (see “The RNC’s Outrageous Assault on Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, and Alternative Media…This is What Imperialist Democracy Looks Like”). Tuesday police attacked a protest of over a thousand people, overwhelmingly youth, and which included children and disabled people. Eleven people were arrested that day, some targeted and searched out after being identified in video footage confiscated by the police. Wednesday night, 102 people leaving a Rage Against the Machine show were arrested.

More than a dozen medics have been arrested, as well as legal observers. On Thursday, police moved in and swept people up off the capitol lawn for no apparent reason, later claiming they were involved in breaking a window earlier that week. Then Thursday’s rally of over a thousand people was shut down, hundreds marched to the convention center and protestors sat-in at a bridge. Police blocked off the area with bulldozers, and after an intense stand-off, the police arrested 396 people. Over a dozen of these were media, including AP photographers and people from the local TV station. By Friday, according to the authorities, 818 people had been arrested during the week.

Police came wearing helmets, padded vests, and shin guards; they used tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers, plastic handcuffs, billy clubs, and rifles that fired projectiles and “flash bombs.” The National Guard was present throughout the week in full riot gear.

Two minors who had been arraigned refused to give their names in solidarity with people in jail; they were charged with contempt on the spot and given a 30-day jail sentence without any trial. The Coldsnap legal collective reported brutality and abuse occurring in the jail including multiple police officers assaulting people, people being put in solitary confinement, and sick people not receiving medical attention. Over 24 people in prison began a hunger strike demanding that medical attention be provided to those who need it.

There has been ongoing harassment aimed at intimidating protestors and sending a message that political protest will not be tolerated. The anti-war group Code Pink reported that about 150 police surrounded a group of 10 Code Pink activists who were displaying banners against the Iraq war. Throughout Tuesday’s outdoor concert police cars lined the streets and officers arrogantly milled about the capitol.

On Tuesday riot cops lined the street at a Poor People’s march near the capitol. Later on, the police gathered three deep near the capitol where the Rage Against the Machine concert was scheduled. Rage arrived and wanted to play, but the power was shut off a half hour before the permit ended. Zack De La Rocha jumped into the crowd and started singing a cappella. People were chanting, “Let them play, let them play,” with their fists in the air. They turned toward police and chanted “Fuck You We Won’t Do What You Told Us.”

The march organized by the Poor People’s Campaign arrived at the capitol, people at the concert joined in and the whole atmosphere was energized. The march went to the Xcel Center (where the RNC was going on) and the Poor People’s Campaign presented a citizens arrest on the Bush administration for crimes against humanity.

At one point the police lined up with batons and started walking slowly toward the protestors, chanting, “Move. Move. Move.” A protestor described when the police moved in to attack: “People were walking back to the state capitol to get to their cars and go home and police said their presence walking back was an ‘unlawful assembly, you all need to keep moving’ and then opened fire with tear gas and concussion grenades. I saw clouds of smoke go up and I thought it was concussion grenades, then I saw the blue hint of the smoke and people started running and leaving very quickly and in front of us, another line of cops started firing….”

People were yelling out, “Don’t Run, Don’t Run,” helping each other get down the street, they were trying to get out and there were smoke bombs and mace. Loud explosions and screams punctured the atmosphere, people were screaming and running and others tried to help people stay calm, then more National Guardsmen in camouflage came in, sneaking out of a dark parking lot and threw tear gas into the crowd of people trying to run. One woman told Revolution, “There was a fucking asthmatic woman shouting ‘Medic,’ and the police guy was just like, ‘Get away from the sidewalk!’ and he shot a fucking tear gas, not at her, but past her, he was just like ‘Get away!’ She fucking couldn’t breathe.”

There were shoes and eyeglasses in the street. A woman in her twenties looked back at a line of police in the park and said, “I have never felt more unsafe in my life.” People were agitating that what the police were doing was illegal and unconstitutional; people were outraged.

The St. Paul Police Department has declared to the public repeatedly that their plans have been a success. At a press conference on September 3, Police Chief John Harrington repeatedly claimed that “rioters” and “anarchists” were targeted because of their alleged plans to disrupt the convention. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said in a statement that the “Welcoming Committee is a criminal enterprise made up of 35 anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention.” Testimony and eye witness accounts from medics, legal observers, journalists, and protestors, as well as hours of video footage posted on YouTube and all over the internet, reveal a different story. What has actually occurred is targeted attacks on event organizers, legal observers, medics and journalists, as well as police indiscriminately coming down on protestors, as well as bystanders.

Many diverse youth and progressive people have been a part of mobilizing to protest at the RNC. The statement at the website of the RNC Welcoming Committee is endorsed by several chapters of the Students for Democratic Society, Campus Anti-War Network, and a number of anarchist organizations and grassroots groups like the Queer Action Network and Milwaukee Anti-racist Action. In addition, anti-war activists, unions, Iraq war veterans, and many others across the country mobilized to come to St. Paul to politically protest the crimes that have been committed by the Bush regime.

An affidavit filed by the police with the Ramsey County District Court states that police have infiltrated the RNC Welcoming Committee since August of 2007, employing both undercover investigators as well as informants. A May 2008 article in a local St. Paul weekly, City Pages exposed that FBI was seeking out informants to attend “Vegan Potlucks” in the Twin Cities. The article recalls how this occurred in the lead-up to the 2004 RNC in New York City, pointing out that “the NYPD’s Intelligence Division infiltrated and spied on protest groups across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. The program’s scope extended to explicitly nonviolent groups, including street theater troupes and church organizations.” Similarly, surveillance and profiling occurred in Denver leading up to the DNC, carried out by what’s called “fusion” groups, consisting of federal as well as state authorities collecting information. An article on worldcantwait.org, titled “Gitmo on the Platte,” details this and other similar police state measures taken in Denver for the DNC this year.

The Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has pointed out that given this kind of history, the allegations towards organizers, which rely entirely on covert operations and no material evidence at this time, are highly questionable. They said in a statement, “Evidence read to date does not corroborate these allegations with physical evidence or provide any other evidence for these allegations other than the claims of the informants. Based on past abuses of such informants by law enforcement, the National Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence and to also act as provocateurs in raising and urging support for acts of violence.”

At the same time, new norms are being established. The Ramsey County prosecutors charged eight of the people arrested in the raids with second-degree furtherance of terrorism, conspiracy to riot, conspiracy to commit civil disorder, and conspiracy to damage property. This is the first time that charges have been issued under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act, which was passed in the state in 2002.

This repression and police terror has been opposed by City Council member David Thune as well as Congressman Keith Ellison. Petitions and statements in support of protestors and those arrested have gone up on the Internet; one gathered over 35,000 signatures overnight. Many are demanding that people in jail be provided with medical care and the legal support they are entitled to, that they be released and charges be dropped.


From Coldsnap Legal: Have any videos, photos, or witness statements from the RNC?

September 9, 2008

If you have any unaltered or unedited original video (copies are okay), photos, or witness statements from the week’s events, PLEASE mail them or deliver them by hand. Follow the instructions below.

NOTE: These items are being collected, processed and catalogued for potential use in court matters. We CANNOT accept altered or edited items.

NOTE: IF YOU ARE A DEFENDANT IN A CRIMINAL CASE, please consult the attorney representing you and discuss the possible ramifications of any submission before doing so.
INSTRUCTIONS:
By mail (highly preferred):

1. Print out and complete the Intake Form.
2. Send the item (notes, video, photos, etc.) and completed intake form by certified mail to:

Berglund & Magnuson, PLLC
1595 Selby Ave. #102
St. Paul, MN 55104.
By hand delivery:

NOTE: We will only have hours for dropping off items from 8am-8pm, Monday through Wednesday, September 8th-10th. After this date, you will need to mail in items.

1. Print out and complete the Intake Form.
2. Bring item (notes, video, photos, etc.) and the completed intake form (if possible) to 1595 Selby Ave. in St. Paul.
3. Before entering the building, call 651.356.8635 to let us know you are here. We will come out to the sidewalk to get you.
4. An intake worker will take you through the steps, which should only take a few minutes. If you cannot bring in the completed intake form, there will be one at the office for you to use.

If these options do not work for you, please call the law office at 651.646.8500 to make other arrangements.


Republicans using Terrorism charges to silence dissent

September 9, 2008

from Indymedia:

Breaking: RNC 8 Charged with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism”

By Twin Cities

Ramsey County Prosecutors have formally charged 8 alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector, face up to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty.

In what appears to be the first use of criminal charges under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal Patriot Act, Ramsey County Prosecutors have formally charged 8 alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector, face up to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty.

Affidavits released by law enforcement which were filed in support of the search warrants used in raids over the weekend, and used to support probable cause for the arrest warrants, are based on paid, confidential informants who infiltrated the RNCWC on behalf of law enforcement. They allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. Evidence released to date does not corroborate these allegations with physical evidence or provide any other evidence for these allegations than the claims of the informants. Based on past abuses of such informants by law enforcement, the National Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence and to also act as provacateurs in raising and urging support for acts of violence.

“These charges are an effort to equate publicly stated plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the RNC as being the same as acts of terrorism. This both trivializes real violence and attempts to place the stated political views of the Defendants on trial,” said Bruce Nestor, President of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “The charges represent an abuse of the criminal justice system and seek to intimidate any person organizing large scale public demonstrations potentially involving civil disobedience, he said.”

The criminal complaints filed by the Ramsey County Attorney do not allege that any of the defendants personally have engaged in any act of violence or damage to property. The complaints list all of alleged violations of law during the last few days of the RNC — other than violations of human rights carried out by law enforcement — and seeks to hold the 8 defendants responsible for acts committed by other individuals. None of the defendants have any prior criminal history involving acts of violence. Searches conducted in connection with the raids failed to turn up any physical evidence to support the allegations of organized attacks on law enforcement. Although claiming probable cause to believe that gunpowder, acids, and assembled incendiary devices would be found, no such items were seized by police. As a result, police sought to claim that the seizure of common household items such as glass bottles, charcoal lighter, nails, a rusty machete, and two hatchets, supported the allegations of the confidential informants. “Police found what they claim was a single plastic shield, a rusty machete, and two hatchets used in Minnesota to split wood. This doesn’t amount to evidence of an organized insurrection, particularly when over 3,500 police are present in the Twin Cities, armed with assault rifles, concussion grenades, chemical weapons and full riot gear,” said Nestor. In addition, the National Lawyers Guild has previously pointed out how law enforcement has fabricated evidence such as the claims that urine was seized which demonstrators intended to throw at police.

The last time such charges were brought under Minnesota law was in 1918, when Matt Moilen and others organizing labor unions for the International Workers of the World on the Iron Range were charged with “criminal syndicalism.” The convictions, based on allegations that workers had advocated or taught acts of violence, including acts only damaging to property, were upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the light of history, these convictions are widely seen as unjust and a product of political trials. The National Lawyers Guild condemns the charges filed in this case against the above 8 defendants and urges the Ramsey County Attorney to drop all charges of conspiracy in this matter.

Bruce Nestor, President
Minnesota Chapter of National Lawyers Guild
3547 Cedar Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407


The Republican version of democracy

September 6, 2008

from Muttering Jam:

Courtesy of Free Press.net:


Report from the Streets of St. Paul: “organizers remained determined to move forward”

September 3, 2008

By LeiLani Dowell

St. Paul, Minn.

Despite an onslaught of police terror and repression, protesters from across the country used a variety of tactics to march on the Republican National Convention here on Sept. 1. A mass march organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War was followed by youthful street actions to denounce the Republican policies of endless imperialist war and sweeping attacks on workers.

In an escalation of tactics used at the Democratic National Convention in Denver a week earlier, Minnesota police began the repression against RNC protesters days before the march. The cops raided community kitchens, meeting spaces and protesters’ homes; handcuffed and harassed activists; confiscated political literature; and arrested at least three people on bogus “conspiracy to riot” charges.

Despite this intimidation, organizers remained determined to move forward with what would turn out to be a highly successful, massive march as well as direct actions on Labor Day, Sept. 1.

Some 30,000 attended a rally that included representatives of the American Indian Movement; ANSWER Coalition; Appeal for Redress Campaign; Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War; Code Pink; Colombia Action Network; Green Party; Latinos Against War; Palestine Solidarity Group; Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign; Students for a Democratic Society; Teamsters 743; Troops Out Now Coalition; United for Peace and Justice; Venezuela Solidarity Network; Veterans for Peace; Welfare Rights Committee; and Women Against Military Madness.

The diverse crowd, led by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, then marched to the Xcel Center, site of the Republican convention, and back to the State Capitol for a closing rally. Various contingents included low-income people, youth and students, immigrant rights activists, labor, Palestine and Colombia solidarity activists, an anti-capitalist bloc and an anti-climate-change group.

While Republican Party leaders shied away from the conference so as to not seem insensitive in the face of Hurricane Gustav, activists remembered the neglect of the Bush administration in response to Hurricane Katrina. A Troops Out Now Coalition banner read “Bush–McCain; Katrina–Gustav: Criminal Neglect Continues.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of youth engaged in militant street actions. They were met by brutal attacks at the hands of the police, including being doused with pepper spray and tear gas. Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) activist and eyewitness videographer Elena Everett reported that a disabled man in a wheelchair was sprayed head-to-toe with pepper spray. Others were hit in the back with tear gas canisters.

The Coldsnap Legal Collective (coldsnaplegal.wordpress.com) reports that as of Sept. 1, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office had announced 284 arrests. Some 130 were charged with felony offenses, which most likely will be used to keep them in jail until the end of the convention. The collective says that the majority of those arrested are still being held in jail, and some are being refused proper medical attention. The collective is asking supporters to call the jail at 651-266-9350 to demand that these activists be released and given proper medical attention.

While the corporate media has focused almost exclusively on property damage sustained during the street actions, including windows being broken at a Macy’s department store, several eyewitnesses told this reporter that the person who began breaking the windows was clearly an agent provocateur working with the police. He approached the window in clear view of the cops, broke it and walked away without an arrest. A police car was also damaged.

However, at a press conference the following day, march coordinator Jess Sundin was quick to point out that any rage displayed by activists in the streets is completely justified and pales in comparison to the state violence committed on a daily basis by U.S. forces at home and abroad.

The joint press conference was held by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, the RNC Welcoming Committee and the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign–all of whom held fast in their solidarity with arrestees, despite attempts by corporate media reporters to bait them into denouncing “violence.” One man, representing the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign, challenged the reporters: “You act like we’re having this press conference in a country that hasn’t practiced oppression for hundreds of years.”

A number of activities are planned to continue the protests through the end of the convention on Sept. 4, including free public music festivals, a “March for Our Lives” and a “solutions driven” peace conference. For updates on activities, visit http://dncrnc.wordpress.com/.

LeiLani Dowell is an activist and leader with the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC).  TONC activists and organizers have been on the streets at both conventions, marching against racism, war, and injustice.

To find out more about the Troops Out Now Coalition, go to www.TroopsOutNow.org

To donate to help pay for organizing expenses, go to http://troopsoutnow.org/donate.shtml

To sign the petition demanding an end to police brutality and illegal conduct in St. Paul, go to http://www.troopsoutnow.org/rnc08protestrights.shtml


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