Sunday, August 31, 2008

In My Own State, the Cops Challenge Free Speech

Why have I been wagging about Sarah Palin when cops in St. Paul are acting more like soldiers in China or 20th century KGB Soviets?
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been blogging about Sarah Palin while Rome is burning!

My regular readers around the nation know how I regularly, constantly and almost sickeningly boast about the great state of Minnesota. There will be no boast today. I’m ill to my stomach this morning and I’m angry as hell. Somebody needs to pay for this! Let’s see if we’ve got any honesty in the news media anymore. It’s their job to get to the bottom of this.

Friday night a combination of the St. Paul Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office raided the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group that has been organizing protests of various sorts during the RNC Convention in St. Paul. It was an asinine and imbecilic raid on a perfectly peaceful establishment.

More than a dozen police vehicles arrived on the scene, most unmarked at about 9:45 p.m. on Friday evening. The Sheriff’s deputies burst through the door with cocked pistols and claimed they had a validly issued search warrant. They would not produce it, however, for a considerable time. The occupants, including children, were forced to the floor and they were handcuffed.

There were about 45 people in the Welcoming Committee’s (WC) headquarters, awaiting the start of an organizing meeting, when the police burst in. They were all detained, questioned and asked for identification. Then they were photographed.

Sometime near midnight, a St. Paul contractor arrived to board up the building. The police claimed some kind of city code violations, but never gave any specific information nor did they issue any charges. The building, a former theater, is located at 827 Smith Avenue, about 12 blocks from the Xcel Energy Center where the convention will be held. It was rented by the WC as a center for activists to gather. Tables were set up to hold literature and hand-outs of various kinds. Maps of downtown St. Paul were taped on the walls.

St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune is furious about the police raid. “This isn’t the way we do things in St. Paul,” he said. He didn’t understand why the building was boarded up. “Normally we only board up buildings that are vacant and ramshackle. The fire inspector doesn’t know what’s going on. He hasn’t been called.”

When the search warrant was produced by law enforcement officials it contained a long list of what they were looking for: soap flakes, X-boxes, paint, computer operating manuals, caltrops, bleach, floppy disks with digital information, Molotov cocktails, and on and on…..

According to Councilman Thune, the police hauled away boxes of literature that the WC had planned to use. They were things like: The Struggle is Our Inheritance: A History of Radical Minnesota; Anarachy: A Pamphlet; A Guide to antiRNC organizing; Need to Know Basics (a legal primer for the RNC Convention).

Many of the detained activists asked to see attorneys. They were not allowed to make phone calls. Some attorneys arrived on the scene anyway, but they were not allowed to enter the building..

An alternative local newspaper (MinnPost) has reported on five raids conducted across the twin cities in what appears to be an effort to stifle the WC. The Ramsey County Sheriff, Bob Fletcher, released this statement:

"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… These acts include tactics to blockade and disable delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers. They have recruited assistance in their criminal conspiracy from other anarchists groups throughout the country. Through their plans and actions they have exhibited a blatant disregard for the law and the safety of others."
WC members claim the Sheriff is nuts.

A news conference was held at the old theater on Saturday morning. I’ve scoured today’s Minneapolis newspaper and don’t find any mention of the incident. Clearly, it will be the job of alternative news sources to tell the population about this “police-state like” development.

Here’s a story that appeared on AlterNet about the raids.

Andy Driscoll is one alternative media guy who was at the news conference. This is his report about it”
I've just returned from taping an RNC Welcoming Committee news conference outside the same old West Side St. Paul building Fletcher's boys raided last night, kicking in doors, weapons drawn, forcing everyone – including children ­ facedown to the floor where they were handcuffed with large, sharp-edged, plastic straps, searched, then released, one-by-one. Officers confiscated several computers, maps, programs and some money according to Lisa Fithian, who conducted the news conference. More on the news conference itself later, but... Several teams of sheriff's deputies and other police have raided three or four private residences in Minneapolis and stopped several bicycle riders at gunpoint around both towns, arresting and jailing several of them on "conspiracy" charges, mostly young men and women connected to the protest community.

Defense attorneys say these cross-jurisdictional raids are authorized and coordinated by Homeland Security and encompass all police and sheriffs' departments, the FBI and the Secret Service. The St. Paul Police were supposed to be "in charge" of any security outside the Secret Service "red zone" around the Xcel Center, but it's quite clear every police department in the Metro is under the coordination and direction of a larger entity.

Gena Berglund, a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorney coordinating legal observers and recorders calls this Homeland Security operation the Fusion Center, a likely name for granting law enforcement powers across all jurisdictions.

Fithian insisted that, in her 35 years of working in dozens of local and regional venues "for radical change in this country," she had never seen anything the likes of which is occurring this weekend across the Cities.

Apparently, twelve to fifteen people have been detained without charges filed and they can be held for up to 36 hours - not counting weekends and holidays - meaning that they could be held through Tuesday unless their release is forced by a court, according to NLG lawyer Jordan Kushner, who spoke at the news conference.

Among the other speakers were:

Michael McPhearson of US Veterans for Peace, which is holding its annual convention in a Bloomington hotel/motel. Police officers from several jurisdictions appeared at that gathering as well, claiming to be scouting the facility for a their own use when, in fact, the VFP group had reserved the entire space for the same period of time. McPhearson was certain this was little more than police intimidation in much the same manner as he and his fellow soldiers used their uniforms and weaponry as intimidation of Iraq and Kuwaiti civilians during the Gulf War I and the current Iraq War.

Dave Bicking, Green Party activist and father of one of the arrested people in this morning's Minneapolis raids, Monica Bicking.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent and whistleblower and organizer of next Thursday's Peace Island Picnic.

Ann Wright, former US Army colonel who said she has served in nearly every US-led military theater from Grenada to Iraq and has never seen such an operation as this weekend's preemptory police actions.

All the speakers spoke of the profound curtailment of civil, human and Constitutional rights the police raids represent, and that every citizen's right to dissent and petition their government is being illegally quashed. What came quite clear to me is that law enforcement must knowingly be provoking the violence they warned city officials about in advance of the protest marches to come Monday and Tuesday mornings by the anti-war and anti-poverty group sponsors. What may be aimed at pre-convention intimidation and preemptory arrests of protest leaders to quell protesters' announced intentions to disrupt the convention has only fired up the very people police expected to put down.

A cynic might wonder if this is all leading up to justification for a brutal confrontation between well-armed and armored police officers and unarmed and generally harmless marchers and dissenters.

Where the two major city mayors, the city councils and county boards are throughout this extraordinary breach of Constitutional rights is a matter for citizens to challenge - and the disgrace this is bringing to the otherwise reasonable Twin Cities and Minnesota cultural heritage is beyond understanding.

It would seem that, with little resistance, the elected officials of our cities have given governance over to a police state, however temporary, and to the paranoia that
accompanies such an inbred culture as law enforcement, itself undeterred by the rule of law in keeping the peace and protecting the Constitution.

The ripple effect in this community will last for years beyond the coming week - and the political and personal lives of citizens and our representatives will have taken a severe turn for the worse. Was it worth all of this grief for the money you all insisted was coming to our fair city's and business coffers to sully the very climate that made us so attractive in the first place?

I think not.
Andy Driscoll
Clearly this police activity has weakened the WC. Many of those arrested can be held until Wednesday without filing charges. Bogus charges can then be filed and judges can decided to hold those charged without bail until after the convention is over and the visitors leave town.
Now, remember, just a week or so ago, we were criticizing the Chinese for just the same kind of actions in their nation in an attempt to stifle the voices of protest.

You may be assured that I’ll try to find out more about this outrageous police action. It seems to me that it clearly defies the constitutional protections we all have to peacefully assemble and to peacefully protest.


  1. OK, so what is the difference? Denver ran a DNC that was glitzy and exciting, with no bloodshed...arrested 154 people who all were fires or broken glass...what's going on?
    I have a friend, Richard, who's a 60's hippy and looks it. He took off for the week and prearranged a bail bond. He attended every protest and march, and couldn't get himself hit on the head once. He said that although the cops were armed and dressed for starwars, they were firm and restrained. Richard was disappointed.
    Now comes St Paul...where did your mayor and city council go? Who turned the city over to the goon squad? ...the Homeland Security Gestapo? What the hell happened to civil rights? ...the Constitution? What's the difference? Polite, cheerful and confident Democrats vs mean-spirited old white bread Republicans? And you know what else? Denver has no mosquitos, either.

  2. I posted your comment, oldman.denver, in spite of your uncalled for comments about mosquitos. What is a mosquito?