When Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild spoke at AR08, she listed new trends currently seen in activist repression.
- New laws, harsher penalties – hello, AETA.
- Police provoking violence, we have a lot of evidence of that as well.
- Police misconduct – this includes arrest without probable cause, the use of “less lethal” weapons on protesters at lawful protests, and perjury.
- Justice department asking to loosen laws to let them gather information without cause
- Federal data gathering, grand juries, fear mongering, “conspiracy” charges
- Police in riot gear, which has been shown to make violence more likely.
All of these have been used against animal rights and environmental rights activists, with the AETA being passed and the Green Scare arrests. We are not alone in being targeted by police. These tactics have also been used, for example, against Critical Mass. And even if you do not agree with the concept of Critical Mass, I think that the events at the RNC in 04, and last month’s unprovoked brutal attack by the police on a NYC critical mass rider would be condemned by pretty much everyone.
There has been great speculation as to what the response in Denver would be to the Critical Mass ride during the DNC. Denver is somewhat bike friendly, with lots of police officers on bikes, some great multi-use paths right through the city, and while Denver is not blue/green in the way that Boulder is, they are nonetheless a strong island of blue in an otherwise fairly relenting canvas of red that is the majority of Colorado. (I’m not sure why that surprises so many people – Colorado has Boulder, it is true, but they also are home to “Focus on the Family” in Colorado Springs, and in the end Colorado is solidly mid-western, traditionally red.) So what does that mean for the DNC and police repression/brutality? Not so much, really, just more of the same.
Critical Mass at the DNC started with a police escort, who had the 600 cyclists go through the red lights. The police later donned riot gear, said that the bicyclists were impeding traffic, and they then started arresting people and giving them tickets. I don’t think anyone is surprised, and not because of the fact that Critical Mass does tend to impede traffic – no one will be surprised, because NYC set the bar that low in ’04.
But that’s not all the repression going on, and I’d venture to say that’s the least of it.
The cops are brutally attacking, and arresting, many of the protesters, irregardless of the legal permits the protesters have, irregardless of the peaceful nature of the protests. The Denver cops are lying to the people they have unlawfully arrested, and are coercing guilty pleas using fear mongering. Once someone has entered a guilty plea, they are not allowed to join in any more protests during the DNC.
Several hundred activists were gathered in Civic Center Park on Aug. 25, where the Recreate 68 Alliance (Recreate68.org) has a permit for a week of actions during the DNC. At about 6 p.m., Denver police began massing in groups, encircling the park. Squads then began to march through the park, pushing and kicking people as they passed. One group of heavily-armed police lined up directly across from the Troops Out Now Coalition table.
At about 7:00, a group of mostly young people responded by chanting “No justice, no peace!” The police charged the group, hitting several of them with pepper spray. Attempting to get away from the club-swinging police, the group moved onto Cleveland Street, joined by many others from the park.
Police then closed off both ends of the block, entrapping the group as well as many bystanders. They began hitting people with their nightsticks and using pepper spray and pepper balls.
In other words, the Denver police during the DNC in the short few days since it started are putting into play nearly every tactic that Heidi listed. I am quite sure that before the end of the convention, we will also hear of “less lethal” weapons being used on peaceful protesters.
But maybe you need video to believe that this is going on? Here’s a video of a CodePink (anti-war) protester being attacked by the police.
Minneapolis seems to be taking a proactive stand, perhaps to avoid having their anticipated police brutality videotaped. So they are targeting protesters before the RNC even begins, confiscating their belongings (including video equipment), and releasing them with no tickets or charges. This must be a state-sanctioned mugging, because though the 3 individuals did nothing wrong, were charged with nothing, and given no tickets, the Minneapolis police are refusing to return their property to them.
Teichberg said police officers stopped them around 2 a.m. after they got off the number 17 Metro Transit bus near NE 7th St. and 27th Ave. According to Teichberg, police officers said there had been suspicious activity in the neighborhood, including a robbery, and officers proceeded to question them about their plans while also snapping photos and searching them, despite their objections. “We didn’t have any burglary tools,” said Teichberg. When they asked the officers if they were being arrested, “We were told we were being detained.”
According to a statement from the collective, the officers refused to file an official incident report or fill out a receipt inventorying seized property, claiming that they were allowed to conduct the search and seizure under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security due to security risks leading up to the
Republican National Convention.
Afterwards, the three journalists/artists were released without receiving any charges or tickets. (Police kept their belongings.) Teichberg said he recently learned that the Minneapolis Police Department is claiming they are being investigated for trespassing on train tracks. “We were targeted. They knew who we were. This was an attempt not to let us document what is happening at the convention… They’re taking away the media’s ability to protest,” he said.
Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Sgt. Bill Palmer said the case is under investigation and that there are some discrepancies between what the journalists are alleging and the police officers’ side of the story. “The MPD is not in the business of restricting free speech,” he said. “The actions of the officers appear reasonable.”
In this morning’s Pioneer Press story, attorney Bruce Nestor, who is the president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, describes the incident as a preemptive strike on a group that is well known to law enforcement. The collective, he said, has supplied video in court cases including that of a 2007 Critical Mass bike ride in New York City.
And we call this “Democracy.” Of course the police statements don’t match the protesters. We’ve seen over and over again that the police lie, and they get away with it, because the judges rubber stamp anything a police officer has to say.
All this to show that activist repression occurs regardless of the type of activism. It makes you wonder – just what is the state afraid of? The people of the country making their voices heard? Isn’t that supposed to be the point of this “democracy”, that it is “for the people, by the people, and of the people”. Didn’t this country get started, somewhat, with what would now be considered an act of terrorism, also known as the “Boston Tea Party”?
So. How do we react?
We keep moving forward, we show solidarity with our fellow activists, and we don’t allow the police to intimidate us, or to chill our constitutional right to disagree with our government, or with the corporations that run it.