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.


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


Anti-war group calls for Fletcher’s resignation

September 6, 2008

rom TwinCities.com:

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Organizers of the anti-war march that ended with nearly 400 arrests Thursday called for the resignation of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher during a press conference outside St. Paul City Hall this afternoon.

The group also demanded an investigation of city officials’ handling of the “raid” on peaceful demonstrators during three and a half hours of marches, sit-ins and, finally, chaotic, tear gas-tainted skirmishes.

“People were arrested and brutalized for standing on bridges and chanting,” said Meredith Aby, an organizer for the anti-war marches on Monday and Thursday.

As in-your-face proof, march participant Mick Kelly lifted his shirt to expose a Frisbee-sized bruise on his left hip. He said he was shot with a rubber bullet as he tried to keep police from taking the group’s banner at Cedar and 12th streets.

Police deny any law enforcement possesses rubber bullets. Pepper balls and some shell casings can look like rubber bullets.

Much of the conflict between march organizers and police came from a misunderstanding about whether or not the group could move from the state Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center.

The group said it might not have had a permit to march after 5 p.m., but it believed that St. Paul police were going to allow them to take to the streets.

As the march began minutes before 5, St. Paul police told the crowd to disperse — it was unlawfully assembled.

Standoffs on the John Ireland and Cedar Street bridges leadinginto downtown ensued.

Anti-War Committee member Jessica Sundin called the move a bait-and-switch.

“It’s a set up,” she said, adding that fall-out from the confrontation should land on St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who allowed his city to be militarized.

“He and the council should take responsibility for the mess they created,” she said.

The group said numerous lawsuits are certain.

“I feel absolutely confident that lawsuits will be filed” at every level of government, said Dianne Mathiowetz with the Troops Out Now coalition.

When asked what police could have done differently Thursday night, Anti-War Committee member Katrina Plotz answered quickly.

“They needed to move out of our way and let us march,” she said. “They blatantly chose to do something else.”

Plotz said the “police repression” of anti-war protesters would backfire.

“The anti-war movement is just going to get bigger exponentially because of what we’ve seen here in the Twin Cities,” she said.

The group also countered claims by St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington that protesters planned to hurl Molotov cocktails once they reached the Xcel.

If there were such items in the march, why haven’t we seen them, the group asked.



Cops run amok in Minneapolis

September 2, 2008

from MCM:

Cops run amok in Minneapolis

Amy Goodman is just one of many who have been arrested.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews is inside the hall, jabbering about “the game.”

MCM

From Munich420:

A post on the Minnesota Independent has a link to ColdSnapLegal’s invaluable twitter, which shows a detailed breakdown of prior incidents involving police and protesters that have been happening throughout the day. The twitter shows a report of Democracy Now! journalists being arrested and includes Amy Goodman.

Except from the here:

Journalists and medics along with protesters are being pepper sprayed and gassed as riot police show no respect for Americans’ constitutional right to practice civic freedom.

Rubber bullets are being used on protesters.

Squad cars are driving into crowds and dispersing them.

Ramsey City Jail is on lockdown refusing arrestees or detainees access to lawyers and St. Joseph Hospital is on lockdown denying arrestees or detainees water.

Members of I-Witness Video, a group that, according to their website, “uses video to protect civil liberties” and “probe police actions at First Amendment events” have been victim of “preemptive video arrest.”

A comment on a DailyKos post titled, “UPDATE: Rubber Bullets, Water Cannons, Pepper Spray, Tear Gas in St. Paul,” explains how I-Witness is being put under house arrest and facing threats of seizure of their computers and video cameras because of their success in exposing police misconduct during the 2004 Republican National Convention.


Report: Massive, warrantless raids on peace protesters in Minneapolis, ahead of RNC.

September 1, 2008

from BoingBoing:

Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com reports that protesters in Minneapolis, where the Republican National Convention will soon begin, have been subjected to massive, pre-emptive police raids. Those arrested include members of Food not Bombs, and a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee,” and a group that uses video to protect civil liberties by documenting police activity at first amendment events.

full post


Thousands expected today for protest

September 1, 2008

September 1, 2008

Despite the big-name cancellations and the preconvention police raids, organizers expect thousands of anti-war demonstrators to march this afternoon from the State Capitol to the site of the Republican National Convention.

They say their passion will not be dampened now that President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are skipping their convention speeches because of Hurricane Gustav. If anything, they say, the storm enhances their message that investing in human needs must outweigh waging an expensive war.

But the protesters are also concerned that aggressive police tactics could cull their numbers, which they estimate could reach 50,000 today.

“Even if the two main actors in the U.S. war in Iraq won’t be there, that will not deter people from sending a loud message to the Republican Party and the country that we need to use our resources on human needs and saving people at home, not killing them abroad,” said Meredith Aby, a Minneapolis organizer working with a coalition of 130 anti-war groups, labor unions and community organizations to plan today’s march.

full story