In the paper last week, Phil Busse wrote a thrilling dispatch from the Republican convention, involving a "funk the war" protest, at which Madonna's vogue was played, and there was a conga. I wish I had been there, but I wasn't. Like Busse, local attorney Ashlee Albies was also in Minnesota with the National Lawyers Guild, and I asked on her return if the cops' suppression was as widespread as it appeared from Busse's report. This was her response:
Before the convention even started the St. Paul Police Dept, along with federal agents, targeted activists in pre-planned raids and searches of organizing centers. Police also raided I-Witness video, a video collective that documented the last RNC in NYC and got over 400 charges dropped against arrestees based on video evidence that showed the police were lying in their sworn accounts of the arrests, searched the house where I-Witness folks were staying while they sat handcuffed outside, but didn't make any arrests. Some of those arrested in the raids are being charged under Minnesota's terrorism statute (Minnesota's version of the PATRIOT Act). Affidavits filed in support of the warrants are based on paid, confidential informants who infiltrated the RNC Welcoming Committee on behalf of law enforcement. They allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. These allegations are uncorroborated by any evidence other than the claims of the informants.
From National Lawyers Guild press release: "These charges wrongly turn stated public plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the RNC into acts of terrorism. The charges represent an abuse of the criminal justice system and seek to intimidate any person organizing large scale public demonstrations potentially involving civil disobedience. It is likely that the expressed "anarchist" political views of the defendants will be a major issue in any future legal proceedings. The last time such charges were brought in Minnesota was in 1918, against labor union organizers charged with "criminal syndicalism.""
These defendants face up to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty. Some of the items seized in these raids were household items; glass bottles, rags, bike tubes, etc., things you could find in most homes, but blown up to be evidence of plans to riot. Not only that, but there have been numerous journalists arrested for documenting the police treatment of the demonstrators.
It's a crack down on dissent; the police in Minnesota, likely at the direction of the federal government, took extreme measures to intimidate and harass those who were planning and attending mass demonstrations at the convention. It was a calculated decision to violate people's rights, and to worry about the consequences later. It's not surprising, but it's still frightening and illegal, and it violates the First Amendment.
J. Ashlee Albies
Not surprising, but still frightening and illegal. Those are sad words to read in the same sentence when you're talking about the government of a country. Especially this one. Thanks, Ashlee, for writing.