9-1-08 Silly Season – What Princess Leia has to say about policing the protests at the Republican National Convention
Posted by Sean on September 1, 2008
Well, Shanoah, here’s that raid in Minneapolis-St. Paul, according to Glenn Greenwald (I had a good story from the Washington Times on this, too, but I can’t find the link now, so I took it off this post):
Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning — one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a “hippie house,” where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with “peaceful kids” who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly.
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. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.
Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. Nestor said that last night’s raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, and that this morning’s raids appeared to target members of “Food Not Bombs,” which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.
Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.
By the way, Greenwald has coverage of the damn-near-military protection of the convention in St. Paul, not to mention the fact that the FBI was spying on protestors, and that police had planted informants inside the protestor groups that were raided (shades of J. Edgar Hoover). Corroboration for the second here and here.
Now, the problem is that, according to news reports, some doofs amongst the protestors decided that it would be a swell idea to break stuff, light stuff on fire and get into fights with the cops. Okay, let’s just ignore the fact, for the moment, that if you want to get people on your side, the last thing that you do is break their windows and slash their tires. You do stuff like that, and you ruin it for everyone else… including the vast majority of peaceful protestors.
“See!” the apologists for the police and the FBI will say. “All these protestors are nuts! We’ve got to go to the mat with these scum! Why… they’re almost like terrorists!” And, though I know it’s bull and you know it’s bull, a lot more people will be nodding their heads and wondering How They, As Citizens, Can Help the Great Police State.
Although, even as I type that, I wonder. First of all, in almost all the coverage I’ve read about the protests in the Twin Cities, the protestors that got violent were “anarchists”. Not “protestors”. Not even “rioters”. No! They were anarchists! You know! Organized anarchists who want to Destroy Our Way Of Life! An anarchist is practically like a terrorist, you know. They both end in “ist”. Methinks there’s something a mite peculiar about the coverage of the protests in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
But more importantly, according to Boulder Weekly, there was similar violence at the Democratic National Convention, and part of the reason (it seems to me) was that protestors were allows to stage their protests only in pre-defined areas. One of the reasons that some of the protestors got violent was their First Amendment rights being truncated, even violated.
And the restrictions were even heavier in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Hell, the goon squad raided homes there, something that I haven’t heard of during the Democratic National Convention. And if it they did have raids in Denver, it only serves to prove my point further.
You have to wonder if the protests would have been mellower, with far less violence and tension, had the authorities toned it down a bit – if they’d given the protestors in Denver a little more free rein, or at least more real estate, and if they hadn’t gone Blackwater during the raids in Minnesota. I mean, “anarchists” are usually a peaceful bunch nowadays. They only get squirrely when the police break out the black body armor and tear gas… you know, when you look up and suddenly there’s a damn good reason to be an anarchist.
But was the RNC Welcoming Committee an “anarchist” group? Well, among the items seized, according to FOXNews (so you know it’s “fair and balanced”), were:
- “wrist rockets”: Slingshots, if I’m reading this right. Those perform great against police in riot armor and shields. Oh yeah.
- “Assorted edged weapons including a machete, hatchet and several throwing knives”: Except for the throwing knives, household tools.
- “Materials used in creating ‘sleeping dragons'”: The hell is a sleeping dragon? Excuse me? Readers out here who didn’t go to Blackwater Summer Camp?
- “large amounts of urine”: RAWK. The GOP’s been pissing on us so long, I figure we should return the favor.
- “Gas mask and filter”: A gas mask, singular, one, for 50 people.
- “Material for protective padding”: Cos we all know how good thick clothes hold up against a close-range salvo of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, billy clubs and water cannons.
- “Empty glass bottles”, “rags” and “flammable liquids”: OMG! They were going to make Molotovs! Or they just happened to have some empty bottles, a rag bag and a can of gasoline out in the garage! Hell, I have empty bottles, a rag bag and kerosene out in the garage. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna make kerosene bombs out of them.
In other words, if this isn’t complete or partial bullshit (and considering the source, I can’t help but think that it is bullshit), then the RNC Welcoming Committee wasn’t a bunch of innocent lambs. OK. Granted.
But was the Code Red response really warranted… especially if the police supposedly had informants inside the RNC Welcoming Committee telling them exactly how the group was armed? Do we really need to go David Koresh against some slingshots, throwing knives and unassembled Molotov cocktails?
“But sir! They have large amounts of urine!”
“Oh… my… GOD. Break out the tactical nuke! They might throw some piss at us while we’re laying down suppressing fire with the 50-caliber machine guns, and that’s just gross!”
I’m suddenly reminded of the words of that eminent statesman and diplomat, Princess Leia: “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. “