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. # # #

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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


Use of Force Against RNC Protesters “Disproportionate,” Charges Amnesty International

September 9, 2008

from Amnesty International:

PRESS STATEMENT
For immediate release:
Friday, September 5, 2008
Contact: AIUSA media office
202-544-0200 x302

Use of Force Against RNC Protesters “Disproportionate,” Charges Amnesty International

[London]–Amnesty International is concerned by allegations of excessive use of force and mass arrests by police at demonstrations in St. Paul, Minnesota during the Republican National Convention (RNC) from September 1-4, 2008. The human rights organization is calling on the city and county authorities to ensure that all allegations of ill-treatment and other abuses are impartially investigated, with a review of police tactics and weapons in the policing of demonstrations.

The organization’s concerns arise from media reports, video and photographic images which appear to show police officers deploying unnecessary and disproportionate use of non-lethal weapons on non-violent protestors marching through the streets or congregating outside the arena where the Convention was being held.

Amnesty International urges that an inquiry be carried out promptly, that its findings and recommendations be made public in a timely manner. If the force used is found to have been excessive and to have contravened the principles of necessity and proportionality, then those involved should be disciplined, measures put in place and training given to ensure future policing operations conform to international standards.

Police are reported to have fired rubber bullets and used batons, pepper spray, tear gas canisters and concussion grenades on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. Amnesty International has also received unconfirmed reports that some of those arrested during the demonstrations may have been ill-treated while held at Ramsey county jail.

Amnesty International is also concerned at reports that several journalists who were covering the RNC were arbitrarily arrested while filming and reporting on the demonstrations. They include host of independent news program Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman, and two of the program’s producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, who were both allegedly subjected to violence during their arrest. A photographer for the Associated Press (AP) and other journalists were also arrested while covering the demonstrations.

Kouddous described his arrest to media, “…two or three police officers tackled me. They threw me violently against a wall. Then they threw me to the ground. I was kicked in the chest several times. A police officer ground his knee into my back…I was also, the entire time, telling them, ‘I’m media. I’m press….,’ but…that didn’t seem to matter at all.”

Amnesty International recognizes the challenges involved in policing large scale demonstrations and that some protestors may have been involved in acts of violence or obstruction. However, some of the police actions appear to have breached United Nations (U.N.) standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials. These stipulate, among other things, that force should be used only as a last resort, in proportion to the threat posed, and should be designed to minimize damage or injury. Some of the treatment also appears to have contravened U.S. laws and guidelines on the use of force. The U.N. standards also stress that everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, in accordance with the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For more information, please contact the AIUSA media office at 202-544-0200 x302 or visit our website at http://www.amnestyusa.org.

# # #


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.


Documents from FBI and DOJ on the infiltration of Austin Affinity Group

September 9, 2008

from Indymedia:

2 documents, one a press release from the Department of Justice, and the other an affidavit of FBI special agent Christopher Langert, detailing the use of confidential informants to entrap Crowder and Mckay.

an excerpt:

2. In February 2007, a confidential human source (“CHS 1”) who has been working with the FBI since November 2007, and who has a proven track record of reliability, began providing the FBI in San Antonio, Texas, with information regarding the activities of a group of individuals involved in planning to disrupt the Republican National Convention (“RNC”).
3. The group of Texas individuals on whom the source was reporting has been named by law enforcement officials as the Austin Area Affinity Group (“the Affinity Group”).

Download the Documents here:
http://houston.indymedia.org/news/2008/09/64791.php

Corporate Media Article:
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/09/09/0909affin…


RNC Welcoming Committee Unmasked Press Conference, 9/4/08

September 9, 2008

The RNC Welcoming Committee held a joint press conference with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign regarding the charges announced the day before against eight Welcoming Committee members, the violent tactics of the police to suppress dissent in St. Paul and across America, and the media’s role taking the word of the police without question and largely ignoring those who are denied basic resources in our society. One person who had been arrested testifies about having been tortured in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Jail.

Part 2 & 3


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