It’s quiet in the Twin Cities today, quiet and cold.
Riot police outside St. Paul's landmark Mickey's Diner, September 2, the Poor People's March
Of those (102) arrested yesterday after an impromptu Rage Against the Machine concert (whose original concert near the State Capitol was canceled by St. Paul police), 87 are back home under the dark cloud of misdemeanor arrests. Fifteen are still in jail.
The arrested were all part of an equally impromptu demonstration which merged Rage followers with the Poor People’s March. All were targeted because they persisted in chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!”, when the police told them to go home. All went quietly to jail instead, sitting on the sidewalks or cement curbs of a blocked-off downtown intersection wearing plastic handcuffs as they waited for police vans, some protesters still suffering the aftereffects of flash grenades and tear-gas bombs used to disperse them. One policeman – looking like a renegade from the movie Brazil – even pepper-sprayed a woman who offered him a flower.
The arrests now top 420. The Cities feel like a war zone. People who can are staying home, or out of the downtown areas, fearful of being accidentally caught up in the insanity. I talked to a young man yesterday – a former college student still in touch with many student activists on the campus of the University of Minnesota (U of M). I asked him who was at fault here, thinking perhaps I just had the wrong perspective on the events.
“The police are wrong,” he said. “Welcome to Fascist America.”
Tonight, on the final day of the RNC convention, the Anti-War Committee is planning a march. Tracy Molm, a member of Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota, is urging fellow students to join. If violence breeds violence, expect tonight to see two armed camps – police and students – pitted against each other in a battle to the finish, because some are fighting back. One hooded participant who tackled a policeman to rescue a friend was being dragged to captivity yesterday.
The “RNC 8”, as they’ve come to be called – leaders of the RNC (Republican National Convention) Welcoming Committee – are in jail, charged by Ramsey County (St. Paul) prosecutors with a provision under the Homeland Security Act called Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.
They are: Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector. All were operating under the auspices of Food Not Bombs, and all face up to more than 11 years in prison if the full penalty is enforced. This group was targeted as early as spring, when FBI agents began soliciting students to infiltrate the group, in what the mainstream media is dubbing a “preemptive strike” and citizen journalists are calling a travesty of justice and a violation of First Amendment rights.The RNC 8 should not have had rocks, paint and urine, even if they never used them. The police, on the other hand, have - and have used - lethal force against civilians, including innocent bystanders.
Members of I-Witness Video, a media watchdog group that monitors police actions to document violations of civil liberties, were similarly targeted. This is the group that facilitated dismissal of charges against some of the 1,800 arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Preemptive policing was used at that time as well.
Amy Goodman, an award-winning journalist and the host of Democracy Now!, who was arrested in St. Paul on Tuesday and later released, asks: “How is the press to operate in this kind of environment?”
Even before the convention, on Sunday evening, Minneapolis police, state troopers, Ramsey County sheriffs, St. Paul police and U of M campus police pulled over the Permibus (the Earth Activist Training Permaculture Demonstration Bus) on its way from Minneapolis to St. Paul. The act, described by officers as a routine traffic stop and later as a commercial vehicle inspection, resulted in the bus being impounded. Officers added they “might want to execute a search warrant later.” The occupants were not allowed to remove anything from the vehicle, even their shoes (which several occupants had taken off for comfort). The bus had been in the Cities since August 2, and its occupants are part of a group called The Skills for a New Millennium Tour. They travel around the U.S. teaching homesteading, citizenship, and life skills at farmers markets, community gardens, churches, intentional communities, and schools.
Before the Permibus incident, Y-Press – a journalism internship for 10 to 18-year-old students - was denied access to the RNC. The group, which gained similar access to the Democratic National Convention in Denver a week ago, is baffled by the refusal, which an RNC spokesperson calls “standard policy.” Another RNC member added, “It’s because they can’t vote.” This is particularly puzzling in light of the fact that the group has covered conventions for both parties during 1992, 1994 and 2004.
Perhaps the young man is right. If so, what does the future hold for residents of the Twin Cities, and America as a whole? Will we be told who to vote for, or simply denied the right altogether? Will our leaders become as inaccessible as former rulers of dictatorial regimes, who barricaded themselves inside palatial mansions and suborned entire police forces to protect them against their people, even when that meant killing an angry populace?
It has happened elsewhere. It can happen here. I'm holding my breath tonight.