Questions Emerge Over Police Conduct in St. Paul
The New York Times
September 16, 2008
It has been more than a week since the Republican National Convention ended, and in many ways life in St. Paul is back to normal. Tear gas no longer clouds the streets, windows shattered by protesters have been replaced, and the thousands of visitors have left town.
But questions are now emerging about the tactics that the police used to control the many rallies and marches that took place. Last Wednesday city officials appointed two former federal prosecutors to review the planning and strategies used by the police before and during the convention.
Tom Walsh, a spokesman for the St. Paul police department, said Monday that the officers had performed well in unusual conditions, sometimes facing hundreds who he said were intent on disrupting the convention or damaging property.
“No one was treated for a serious injury,” Mr. Walsh said. “You’re going to see that the amount of force used, in my view, matched the need.”
Mayor Chris Coleman said in an interview last week that the two former prosecutors looking into the incidents would conduct a broad overview without looking into specific complaints.
“Were going to look at the planning and implementation of security and public safety measures during the convention,” Mayor Coleman said. “I think we did have a safe and successful convention.”
For many St. Paul residents, the four days of the convention were turbulent ones for their tranquil and stately city overlooking the Mississippi River. There were nonviolent rallies, acts of vandalism and sporadic confusion and disorder, all taking place against the unfamiliar backdrop of streets lined with tall metal fences and patrolled by officers from more than 100 agencies, including some in riot gear or on horseback .
Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful, small groups of masked figures smashed windows, attacked a police car and knocked an officer to the ground on the first day of the convention. Ultimately, more than 800 people, including about two dozen credentialed journalists, were arrested. Dozens more were handcuffed and photographed without being accused of any crime. And police officers in some instances used pepper spray, tear gas, bullets made of plastic and foam and flash grenades that exploded with a burst of light and a sharp bang.
Muzak : ‘Smash Things Up’, ¡TCHKUNG! (Incite, Post World Industries, 1996): Rob the rich / arm the poor / social justice / is civil war…!
In a city with a history of good relations with its police, some people have found the strategies employed during the convention discomfiting, said Dave Thune, a St. Paul city councilman, who received complaints from residents arrested in police sweeps or engulfed by clouds of gas.
As a result, Mr. Thune is organizing a meeting to discuss just what took place.
“When clearly the bulk of the peaceful people weren’t joining in a riot, why did we have to go to the extent of using tear gas and percussion grenades?” he said. “People weren’t supposed to get trapped by police or forced into situations where they could be arrested.”
The last two Republican conventions, held in Philadelphia and New York, were also marked by arrests and recriminations. New York City still faces more than 500 federal court claims stemming from police tactics.
While 1,800 people were arrested at that 2004 convention, there were a proportionately high number of arrests in St. Paul, where the protests were much smaller. In addition, critics say, the use of chemicals have set this convention apart.
“It was an unprecedented show of police presence and display of force,” said Bruce Nestor, the president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is defending many of those arrested. “Minnesota has never seen this level of militarization of local police.”
Law enforcement officials raided homes and made arrests even before the convention began. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s office, which is based in St. Paul, said the homes it searched were inhabited by people connected to an anarchist organization called the R.N.C. Welcoming Committee.
Eight people described by the authorities as members of the group were accused of conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism based on statements by confidential informants who told investigators that the group had discussed kidnapping delegates and sabotaging an airport.
Lawyers for the defendants say the charges are baseless and have questioned the reliability of statements made by the informants, including one who the authorities say was paid by law enforcement.
- Pigs in St Paul, Minnesota, after having raided a convergence space and a number of other buildings, have charged eight anarchists, allegedly members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, with being unpatriotic and conspiring to commit terrorism:
RNC in Twin Cities: Eight protesters charged with terrorism under Patriot Act
September 6, 2008
On Wednesday eight members of the anarchist protest group the Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee (RNCWC) were charged under provisions of the Minnesota state version of the Patriot Act [The USA PATRIOT Act, commonly known as the Patriot Act — an Act of Congress signed into law on October 26, 2001 by George II. The contrived acronym stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001″] with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” The eight charged are all young, and could face up to seven-and-a-half years in prison under a provision that allows the enhancement of charges related to terrorism by 50 percent. They are: Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald and Max Spector…
According to the Los Angeles Times (Terrorism charges filed in alleged plot to disrupt GOP convention, P.J. Huffstutter, September 4, 2008): “The arrests follow a nearly yearlong investigation by the sheriff’s office and federal law enforcement agencies. An undercover investigator and informants were used to monitor the group, according to court documents. The inquiry found that the group had connected with sympathetic factions in dozens of cities to recruit volunteers and raise funds, according to the documents”.
During the convention, hundreds of officers wearing helmets with visors and armored vests and carrying long wooden sticks monitored large marches, some of which took place without a city permit. On at least three occasions the police fired 40-millimeter projectiles while dispersing or arresting the groups. Tear gas and pepper spray were used more frequently.
Some of those arrested said they were not participating in demonstrations, but were simply onlookers or journalists.
On the final night of the convention, as Senator John McCain was preparing to address delegates inside the Xcel Energy Center, the police prevented marchers who did not have a permit from crossing two bridges that led to the convention center. Later, as demonstrators took to the streets near the state capitol, the police lobbed flash grenades into the crowd while thick plumes of tear gas clouded the air. Then, several hundred demonstrators and more than a dozen journalists were directed onto a third bridge, where they were ordered to sit and place their hands on their heads.
Those trapped on the bridge included two reporters for The Associated Press, a photographer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and two Fox News editors.
“At some point even a journalist has to recognize that they are in violation of the law,” Tom Walsh, a St. Paul Police spokesman, said as the arrests were taking place. “Are they going to get arrested or are they going to cover it from a distance?”
For a more comprehensive account of the RNC protests, see ‘The Ground Noise and the Static: A Chronicle of the Battle of Saint Paul (Illustrated)’, September 15, 2008.
See also : Keith McHenry, ‘Food Not Bombs, Surveillance and Disruption: America’s Dirty Little Secret, Domestic Surveillance’, for a potted history of over twenty of government harassment. In Russia, FNB is subject to both government harassment and neo-Nazi attack.
The FBI and other security forces are waging a national campaign against Food Not Bombs. Even though Food Not Bombs is dedicated to nonviolent social change our movement has been listed as a terrorist group by U.S. federal authorities. Volunteers arrested during raid of the Minnesota Food Not Bombs houses in the Twin Cities have been charged with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” In California the East Bay Food Not Bombs office at Long Haul was raided and 13 computers were taken. Elle Magazine reports that the Sacremento California office of the FBI paid a college student $75,000 to disrupt Food Not Bombs. The FBI provided her with blasting caps, plans to build a bombs and a car and house wired to record audio and video. As many as 20 volunteers are in U.S. prison accused of terrorism. The FBI claims they have infiltrated our movement disrupting our work to feed the hungry and work for peace.
The police raid on the Long Haul infoshop in Berkeley took place on August 27. Police “broke down every door, and confiscated all computers on the property. Computers taken included those used by the Slingshot Collective and East Bay Prisoner Support. Police also broke into cabinets, cut locks, and went through mail.” Police in Denver have also raided the DNC convergence space; another standard police tactic intended to maximise disruption.
“Behind you!” Anarchism and Terrorism
- “I would rather kill chickens than kill kings. Chickens are good to eat. But a king, of what use is he?” ~ Errico Malatesta
Bourgeois assertions regarding the relationship between anarchism and political violence are routine. These assertions, while unsupported — and almost always unexamined — are brought back into mainstream circulation as often as they are required. (See, for example, Mary Evans, ‘For jihadist, read anarchist’, The Economist, August 18, 2005.) Most recently, the emergence in the West of movements against neo-liberalism — and, following that brief episode, the sudden irruption into public consciousness of Islamic fundamentalist terror — has rekindled bourgeois interest in this topic. According to some, this supposed reliance of anarchism on the commission of individual acts of terror is the inevitable result of its underlying ‘elitism’; for which reason, “rather than attempting to organise the mass of workers to fight for their own self-emancipation, [anarchists] rely on the actions of a self-chosen minority”.
Both contentions are radically false.
To begin with, the extent of anarchist terrorism has long been exaggerated, in fact massively so. The reasons for this are not that difficult to fathom, and are closely intertwined with the role of the anarchist monster as the bringer of ‘chaos’ and ‘destruction’ in the bourgeois imagination; in reality, the overthrow of bourgeois rule. Further, anarchism is not the only political tendency which has produced ‘terrorists’. For example, if one compares the nature and extent of anarchist acts of violence, even during their peak, anarchism emerges as one of the least violent of political traditions. And of those whom the anarchists did murder, the great majority were kings and presidents. Thus the years 1892 to 1901 are sometimes referred to as The Decade of Regicide. Those who kicked their gold-plated buckets at this time included President Sadi Carnot of France in 1894, Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas of Spain in 1897, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, and President William McKinley of the United States in 1901.
In summary, Richard Bach Jensen writes:
While the number of assassinated heads of state and government, and of monarchs of major countries was unprecedented, the anarchists, outside of Spain, killed relatively few people. Nonetheless, the anarchists’ desire for dramatic signs of vindication, the authorities’ and the public’s fears of a vast anarchist conspiracy and the media’s hunger for sensational news combined to create the mirage of a powerful terrorist movement sweeping through nations and across the world. ~ ‘Daggers, Rifles and Dynamite: Anarchist Terrorism In Nineteenth Century Europe’, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.16, No.1, Spring 2004, pp.116-153
In fact, according to Jensen’s calculations, in 1890s France, Spain and Italy — the three countries in which the majority of dastardly anarchist outrages such as these took place — “real or alleged anarchists killed more than sixty and injured over 200 people with bombs, pistols and daggers”. Further, while “No one has yet attempted to calculate the total number of European and world victims of anarchist terrorism… [f]or the period 1880-1914 (excluding Russia) about 150 people died and over 470 were injured as a result of real or alleged anarchist attacks”.
By way of comparison, one might consider the many casualties that wars produced during the period 1880-1914. For example, four times as many Australians (606) died helping to keep South Africa British in the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902 than anarchists allegedly killed during this entire period; casualties in the Herero War in German Southwest Africa (1904-07) totalled 75,000; while Mike Davis (Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World) argues that the business policies of the imperial European landlords, merchants and bureaucrats in the face of the El Niño drought intensified these famines and thereby caused millions of deaths during the period 1876-1900. One might also compare these acts of terror with that unleashed by the Bolsheviks against their revolutionary — and often anarchist — opposition following their coup d’état in 1917…