Show me what a police state looks like…
This is what a police state looks like!
Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving 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. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.
In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs.
There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention.
This is Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video, a NYC-based video collective that’s in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests around this week’s Republican National Convention.
The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.
We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004 success.
The work of the I-Witness Video collective was interrupted this past Saturday, August 30, 2008, when St. Paul police detained 7 members of the group (along with an assortment of other individuals) for several hours. The NYC-based video collective is in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests at the Republican National Convention.
The incident began in the late morning when an FBI agent and a Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff showed up on the doorstep of the house in which members were staying (on Igelhart St.), interrupting a collective planning meeting. The officers left after a short conversation with members through a locked front door. Two hours later, around 30 police surrounded the house. Two people who left the house were detained in handcuffs; several others, who were inside, were told that if they left, they would be also be detained. Around the same time, three other I-Witness Video members who had left the house on bikes and two others who were riding in a car across town were also detained by police.
Two hours later, after the search warrant arrived, police at the Igelhart Street house stormed in, pointing an automatic handgun at the people inside. They handcuffed all the individuals inside, collected their personal information, and corralled them in the back garden. While police held the media activists and their friends there, members of the media, who had gathered in an adjoining backyard, interviewed I-Witness Video member Eileen Clancy from behind a fence. After completing their search, the police finally uncuffed everyone and departed. Within about two hours, the other I-Witness Video groups–who had been detained on bikes and in a car, all of whom also had their identifications verified and had undergone searches of various kinds–were also released.
During the raids, members of I-Witness Video managed to send out several email and text messages to supporters, legal support, and press. In response, hundreds of people called the office of the St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Among those individuals detained was Democracy Now! producer Elizabeth Press, who had her camera with her throughout the incident. This morning, Democracy Now! ran a news segment on the many preemptive raids that police have launched against activists in St. Paul this month, including the raid that I-Witness Video suffered on Saturday.
This was a clear effort to intimidate and undermine the work of I-Witness Video–a group that was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests made that week, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements by police officers.
At about 2:45 this past afternoon (Sept. 3), police wielding batons and a battering ram entered the professional office building on Selby Avenue in St. Paul where I-Witness Video is renting work space.
Geneva Finn, an attorney with the National Lawyer’s Guild went to head off the police. After the police left, she made this statement at an impromptu press conference on the street:
A few minutes ago, one of our legal observers called me to the door. I saw the St. Paul police unloading a bunch of equipment from their cars and they saw me at the door. They saw me at the door, they motioned me forward. I came forward to their cars. They told me that they had reports that somebody was holding somebody hostage in the building, that there had been a kidnapping. They told me that somebody, an undercover had told them, that the anarchists were holding people hostage in our building.
I work for the NLG [National Lawyers Guild] here, we have, we’re working at one of our lawyer’s offices, I said, “Is it in our law office?” They said “No, it’s upstairs.” They then came into the building with me, I showed them what was going on upstairs. They did a pull-up on the frame of I-Witness’ door, looked in, saw that there was people in there, nobody was being held hostage. I then asked the police to leave, since no one was obviously being held hostage here, and they refused. Eventually their head sergeant came here, and decided that they could leave the building.
Anarchists taking hostages? Kidnapping?
This is extraordinary, folks. The St. Paul police came after us with unfounded allegations that we were engaged in criminal behavior. This harassment has interfered with our ability to do the work of documenting the policing of protests that we have come to St. Paul to do. They were able to put pressure on the landlord to do something that they could not force under the law. We were informed that, as a result of all of the commotion, our landlord wanted us to leave the premises immediately.
We packed up our belongings as quickly as possible and were welcomed at the offices of Free Speech TV in St. Paul, for which we are deeply grateful.
While reporting from a protest at the Republican National Convention, Utne Reader intern Chelsey Perkins captured footage of police launching gas canisters at protesters and chasing them down the banks of the Mississippi river in St. Paul.
Having seen protesters and police clash in the distance, Perkins asked an officer how to get away from the conflict zone. She was directed toward a river walk with a large group of people including both protesters and bystanders. The police followed closely behind, until multiple groups of officers on bikes, horses, and on foot surrounded and detained everyone in the area.
Once surrounded, Perkins was told to get on the ground with her hands on her head. Some of the people were placed in plastic cuffs, and a large bullhorn announced that everyone in the area was under arrest. Members of the media were eventually told to leave, because the area was deemed a “crime scene.” Perkins tried to explain that she was a member of the media, but without credentials, she was unable to leave.
After some 45 minutes of being detained, Perkins was told that she was no longer under suspicion and could leave if she wanted. When she agreed, she was surrounded by a group of police who escorted her away from the area.
Before the protests, police from several different government agencies repeatedly used hyperviolent paramilitary SWAT assaults in order to harass, intimidate and disrupt protest groups even though there was absolutely no evidence, other than wild speculation, that anyone posed a threat of violence against the cops sent to serve the warrants, and even though no crime had yet been committed. The cops attacked not only protest groups but also journalists. Then, once the demonstrations had begun, heavily-armed riot cops repeatedly surrounded nonviolent protests, attacked them with batons, ordered them to disperse and then blocked off all possible routes of exit, and fired tear-gas cannisters into crowds of retreating protesters and bystanders.
Remember that so-called electoral democracy — in fact, nothing more than an imperial elective oligarchy — never means that we (meaning you and I and our neighbors) are respected as sovereign individuals or left alone to manage our own affairs. What it means is that a highly organized, heavily armed elite insists on the privilege of “representing” us, ruling over us, and ordering us around, on the excuse that, once every several years, we are given some minimal opportunity to select which of two tightly regimented political parties will take control of the ruling apparatus. It is, in other words, not freedom, but rather a Party State, in which we are given only the choice of which of two bureaucratic political parties might control our lives and livelihoods, with their authority supposedly justified by the ritual of elections and the mandate of popular sovereignty. And if the people (again, meaning you and I and our neighbors) should dare to think that we might challenge the authority of the regime supposedly “representing” us, you’ll find that it’s the people that go out the window, not the rigged electoral system or the parties’ grasp on the authority supposedly derived from those people.
More to come.