By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Our family attended events in St. Paul three of the four evenings of the RNC ("Blood, Sweat, and Tear Gas," 9/3/08). We thought that the level of police presence was completely disproportionate to the level of protest. The last day in particular we saw large groups of people being told that their "right to peaceably assemble" had expired. Their "freedom of speech" was curtailed because of the lack of proper permits. And the "free speech stage" promised by the authorities was shut down before it was even allowed its first words. I am thankful I was able to make it safely to the Xcel with my family. There were plenty of conveniently placed portable toilets, but there were also more than enough black-body-armor-clad soldiers, some with assault rifles and grenade launchers and all bearing large wooden clubs. This type and scale of force was absolutely disproportionate to the number and demeanor of the demonstrators. The police presence was calculated to intimidate, and it was effective.
If only we had equipped our troops this well before they went into Iraq.
I was in town for the RNC last week. I arrived from Denver after spending the week there covering the DNC. I also was present in NYC for the 2004 RNC. I must say that what I witnessed in St. Paul scared the hell out of me. It was laid out like an occupied city, with military checkpoints at breaks in the concrete-and-wire barricades. The police were like a search-and-destroy military occupation force: no-knock, gunpoint home invasions; preemptive strikes on dissidents; armor-clad storm troopers clubbing and cursing young women in the streets. I am not using hyperbole here—I have hours and hours of video capturing these events, as do, I am certain, many, many others.
The 2004 RNC in New York was a frightening experience—police raided and arrested protesters in advance, with a clear intent to try to keep them out of the view of the comfortable Republican delegates. It was like the NYPD was hired to help secure the convention for Bloomberg as a sort of aesthetic control squad, to make NYC safe for the leisure-suited wannabe big shots. Denver 2008 was a quantum leap ahead of '04 NYC—the police were far more heavily outfitted, and the tone of the operation was much more military. Nevertheless, Denver was small change compared to the outright occupation of St. Paul that took place last week.
Don DeBar Ossining, New York
I am not an overly religious person, but I know good advice when I hear it. The Bible says, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," and however hard it is, in my daily life I try to do just that. So I do not despise the men and women who acted as agents of law enforcement at the Republican National Convention, despite the frightful and unconstitutional actions they have taken against me over the past few days. Even though I and hundreds of other protesters, legal observers, videographers, journalists, concert-goers, medics, and bystanders who were outside the RNC have had our rights grossly abused, I shall still try my best to love the people under those police uniforms, just like I try my best to love all people and all of creation. It is my love for humanity and justice that brought me to the protests in the first place.
But the sin I cannot love. This week, hundreds of peaceful, politically active civilians were treated by the law enforcement in St. Paul as enemy combatants rather than as the largely nonviolent, peacefully assembled citizens we were. Over 800 people were arrested. A few are perhaps guilty of what they were charged with, but the overwhelming majority are not. In an abuse of police power so vicious that it mocked the very foundations of our democracy, hundreds of innocents were scooped up, handcuffed, pinned with false charges, and thrown in jail. I was one of them. I spent a good deal of the last week in a tiny jail cell on 23-hour lockdown for a crime I did not commit. The charges the police have pinned on me are frighteningly serious and absolutely fabricated. My family is devastated and I am outraged. Worse yet, there are hundreds of innocent people in situations just like mine, many of whom were brutalized and pepper-sprayed without provocation and denied adequate access to medical treatment while in jail. What was our crime? Being young, being politically active, being awake? Raising a voice of dissent? Bearing witness? Last time I checked, I lived in America, where I was supposed to be free. These fantastic abuses of power set a dangerous precedent that threatens to erode our freedoms of speech, assembly, and belief, and must not be allowed to continue. Those who care to protect our constitutional rights should call St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, and Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to demand the dismissal of all charges for those arrested during and leading up to the Republican National Convention. If the rights of one citizen are endangered, so too are the rights of all of us. If one citizen is silenced, so too are we all.