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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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:


The Perishing Republicans, the RNC 8 and the Twin Cities Cops

September 4, 2008

from Counterpunch:

What I do care about in terms of this week in Minnesota is what is going on outside the convention.  From all reports in the media outlets that cover that which is not scripted by the GOP, the streets of the Twin Cities have been turned into a zone where police terror is permitted and even encouraged.  If one is a protester, it is even expected.  Prior to the convention itself, a series of raids were conducted against people involved in planning protests against the convention and the policies of the Washington and the GOP.  These raids were coordinated by federal, state and local authorities and involved procedural and constitutional violations by the police.  On Sunday and Monday, police attacked protesters and arrested hundreds.  Tuesday and Wednesday saw more of the same.  A small concert attended by a few hundred people was attacked on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, police prevented the popular rock group Rage Against the Machine from performing at an outdoor show because “they would incite a riot.”  (They did play a free show later at the Target Center and then joined in a march to the XCel Center.)  In addition, police have attacked protesters, journalists and bystanders with clubs, pepper spray, and tear gas. So far, close to five hundred people have been arrested.  Most of them are being held in open air detention centers.

These arrests, while certainly of questionable legality, are but the tip of the iceberg.  On September 3, 2008, eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee– some of the primary organizers of the protests–were formally charged with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.  These eight were among those arrested in the pre-convention raids and, according to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), face up to 7 1/2 years imprisonment each.  For those of us around forty years ago, the indictment of eight people on charges of conspiracy to incite a riot at a national political convention is a n ominous deja vu.  For those who need a reminder or who don’t know the history I’m referring to, eight men were charged after the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with (among other things) conspiracy to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot.  These eight became known as the Chicago Eight.  Of course, in today’s more enlightened world, authorities didn’t just charge men this time around.  At least two of those charged were women.  The charges against the RNC Eight (as they are being called) were brought based on the testimony of informants and provocateurs that infiltrated the loose knit organization.  As the NLG news release makes clear, “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. ”  Because no physical evidence of this nature was found, police seized common household items like lighters, cleaning fluid, some nails and a couple hatchets and claimed that these items were to be used to incite insurrection.  In addition, police claimed they confiscated two buckets of what they called (I’m serious here) “weaponized urine.”  What these buckets actually contained was gray water used to flush toilets at the house where they were found.  According to police, other seized materials included other types of household tools, padding (probably to protect people from police truncheons), some pvc pipe and an army helmet.

full article here


Police State Methods: Preemptive Strikes Against Protest at the Republican National Convention

September 3, 2008

By Prof. Marjorie Cohn

Global Research, September 2, 2008

In the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, the FBI-led Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force actively recruited people to infiltrate vegan groups and other leftist organizations and report back about their activities.  On May 21, the Minneapolis City Pages ran a recruiting story called “Moles Wanted.” Law enforcement sought to preempt lawful protest against the policies of the Bush administration during the convention.

Since Friday, local police and sheriffs, working with the FBI, conducted preemptive searches, seizures and arrests.  Glenn Greenwald described the targeting of protestors by “teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets.”  Journalists were detained at gunpoint and lawyers representing detainees were handcuffed at the scene.

“I was personally present and saw officers with riot gear and assault rifles, pump action shotguns,” said Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who is representing several of the protestors.  “The neighbor of one of the houses had a gun pointed in her face when she walked out on her back porch to see what was going on.  There were children in all of these houses, and children were held at gunpoint.”

The raids targeted members of “Food Not Bombs,” an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group that provides free vegetarian meals every week in hundreds of cities all over the world.  They served meals to rescue workers at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and to nearly 20 communities in the Gulf region following Hurricane Katrina.

Also targeted were members of I-Witness Video, a media watchdog group that monitors the police to protect civil liberties.  The group worked with the National Lawyers Guild to gain the dismissal of charges or acquittals of about 400 of the 1,800 who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York .  Preemptive policing was used at that time as well.  Police infiltrated protest groups in advance of the convention.

Nestor said that no violence or illegality has taken place to justify the arrests.  “Seizing boxes of political literature shows the motive of these raids was political,” he said.

Further evidence the political nature of the police action was the boarding up of the Convergence Center , where protestors had gathered, for unspecified code violations.  St. Paul City Council member David Thune said, “Normally we only board up buildings that are vacant and ramshackle.” Thune and fellow City Council member Elizabeth Glidden decried “actions that appear excessive and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for those who wish to exercise their first amendment rights.”

“So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protestors who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do,” Greenwald wrote on Salon.

Preventive detention violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that warrants be supported by probable cause.  Protestors were charged with “conspiracy to commit riot,” a rarely-used statute that is so vague, it is probably unconstitutional. Nestor said it “basically criminalizes political advocacy.”

On Sunday, the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed an emergency motion requesting an injunction to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.

During Monday’s demonstration, law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force.  At least 50 people were arrested, including Amy Goodman, the prominent host of Democracy Now!, as well as the show’s producers, Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.  “St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city to be,” Greenwald wrote, “with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations.”

On Sunday, the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed an emergency motion requesting an injunction to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.

During Monday’s demonstration, law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force.  At least 284 people were arrested, including Amy Goodman, the prominent host of Democracy Now!, as well as the show’s producers, Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.  “St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city to be,” Greenwald wrote, “with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations.”

Bruce Nestor said the timing of the arrests was intended to stop protest activity, “to make people fearful of the protests, but also to discourage people from protesting,” he told Amy Goodman.  Nevertheless, 10,000 people, many opposed to the Iraq war, turned out to demonstrate on Monday.  A legal team from the National Lawyers Guild has been working diligently to protect the constitutional rights of protestors.

Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), which will be published this winter by PoliPointPress.  Her articles are archived at http://www.marjoriecohn.com.


Activist group condemns ‘violent and illegal’ police raids; restraining order sought against police

September 1, 2008

from Politics in Minnesota:

A national anti-war activist group, the Troops Out Now Coalition, has set up an online petition drive in the wake of this weekend’s police raids and arrests of Republican National Convention protesters.

The petition accuses authorities of using “fear and intimidation” tactics and acting under orders from the RNC to raid three Minneapolis homes and the RNC Welcoming Committee’s “Convergence Center” in downtown St. Paul.

“Release the arrestees and drop the phony charges,” the petition, on the coalition’s website, reads. “I condemn the violent and illegal raids being carried out against activists assembling to protest at the Republican National Convention. I am opposed to any attempts to suppress dissent at the RNC, and I demand that anyone being held be released immediately, all phony charges dropped, and all property seized to be returned.

“Friday and Saturday’s raids on the Convergence Center and other locations were outrageous attacks on the rights of people to protest at the RNC. Dissent is not a crime.

“These arrests days before the beginning of the Republican National Convention were an attempt to undercut turnout at the expected massive, legally permitted, anti-war rally planned for Monday, September 1, organized by the March on RNC Coalition, which will gather at the State Capitol and march to the RNC Convention site. The police, acting on orders from the RNC, clearly intend to use tactics of fear and intimidation to impact the days of protest planned for over a year by hundreds of justice and anti-war organizations.

“The only group of people who have come to Minneapolis-St. Paul with criminal intent are the delegates, corporate lobbyists, and politicians who are participating in the Republican National Convention. They are conspiring to continue the illegal war in Iraq. They are conspiring to wage another illegal war against Iran. They are conspiring to steal money from working people and use it to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. They are conspiring to continue to violate basic human rights by engaging in illegal wiretapping, surveillance, and police brutality at home, while running torture camps such as those in Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib.

“People have a right to protest at the RNC. I support and defend that right.”

Another site, Twin Cities Indymedia, reported Sunday evening that the National Lawyers Guild, a group of attorneys and law students based in New York, and Communities United Against Police Brutality, a Twin Cities organization, had filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against local police to prevent them from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used by independent media organizations.

The groups said examples of police interference with the right to document their conduct included the beating of CUAPB vice president Darryl Robinson while “copwatching,” the seizure of equipment of three journalists with Glass Bead Collective, and the targeting of journalists during a raid on a house in St. Paul Saturday afternoon.

“Another example is the action of Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies, who deliberately shut off CUAPB president Michelle Gross’ video camera while she was documenting Friday night’s raid from inside the convergence space,” the groups said. “This action prevented her from documenting the incident in its entirety. Despite their actions,  Gross was able to capture about 7½ minutes of video and audio of the beginning of the raid, including use by deputies of a battering ram to force open the door to a upstairs theater where families were watching a film.”

Hennepin County Judge Mark Wernick has not yet acted on the request for the restraining order.


Two Of Today’s Nine Arrestees Released As NLG Attempting To Have Judge Rule On Probable Cause For The 6 Arrested Yesterday

August 31, 2008

from firedoglake:

Bruce Nester from The National Lawyers Guild says that the NLG is attempting to have Judge Joanna Smith rule on whether the police had probable cause when arresting the 6 folks charged yesterday with “conspiracy to riot”. If she rules there wasn’t, then they will have to be released. If she rules there was probable cause, NLG will ask her to set conditions for their release.

According to Carrie at Coldsnap Legal Collective, the nine people arrested today were from a Veterans Against War march, and were charged with misdemeanor tresspassing for attempting to bypass a fence. One was a nun, one was in a wheelchair. Two have been released, seven are still being held. (Update: According to Tom Walsh of the Joint Information Center all 9 are now free, the two were only cited, apparently.  They were inside the RNC  perimeter, which is not allowed.)

So far 15 people have been arrested, and 2 released. Most people, instead of being arrested are being hassled, including being kept handcuffed while officers search the area, sometimes for hours. Computers, cell phones, cameras and a bus have been confiscated.