September 4, 2008
Authorities have carried out a massive mobilization of federal,
state and local police and military forces to cordon off the Republican
National Convention from protesters opposed to the party’s
program of militarism and social reaction.
Over the last few days, nearly 300 people have been arrested
near and around the Xcel Energy Center and downtown St. Paul,
Minnesota has been transformed into a virtual armed camp to intimidate
demonstrators and silence dissent.
The police reported Wednesday that they had arrested 11 more
people Tuesday, including three at an anti-poverty demonstration,
but would not give any more details. As the march of an estimated
3,000 people ended near the convention center police fired tear
gas and lobbed concussion or "flash-bang" grenades to
disperse protesters, who police claimed were trying to get past
A total of 295 people have been arrested, including 137 charged
with felonies such as "conspiracy to commit riot." Many
continued to be detained. The bulk of those arrested were seized
during an antiwar march of 10,000 people on the Monday, the opening
day of the convention. Demonstrators were forced to run the gauntlet
of hundreds of riot-equipped and black-uniformed police, FBI agents
and 150 National Guard troops carrying shields.
The police fired tear gas, beanbags and used tasers to arrest
hundreds of protesters. Also targeted were independent journalists
and photographers and groups that monitor police abuse against
protesters. Among those seized by the police were an Associated
Press photographer, a group of University of Kentucky student
journalists and Amy Goodman, the host of the liberal radio show
"Democracy Now!" Goodman was arrested for "interfering
with peace officers" when she questioned police about the
arrest and bloodying of her show’s two producers.
WSWS reporter Ron Jorgenson described the scene:
"A helicopter hovered over downtown St. Paul all day long.
There were police and sheriff’s deputies from St. Paul, Minneapolis
and other cities in Minnesota, as well as across the nation, including
a large number from Arlington, Texas that I saw. The largest number
were riot police with no identification who wore dark blue or
black. They were armed with clubs and other weapons. There were
also armored black trucks, filled with an assortment darting through
the streets and police on bicycles and horseback.
"I honestly believed as I watched groups of riot police
line up and rows of mounted police moved into position that there
was a good chance that I might get caught up if I didn’t
move. It appeared there were embedded press. I got the impression
that established media could move in and out of police lines.
I did that once and was sharply warned by a cop. Had I chosen
the wrong moment to do that while taking a picture, I could have
been thrown to the ground."
Authorities later justified this disproportionate show of force
and the mass arrests that followed by citing incidents of rock
throwing and window-breaking by a small group—numbering no
more than 150—of self-described "anarchists." It
is very likely this group included police agents and provocateurs
whose job was to encourage violence in order to discredit political
opposition and create conditions for a police repression.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, about a year
ago the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office began "regular
surveillance" of one group, called the Republican National
Convention Welcoming Committee, which included the use of "three
people who posed as members—two informants and an undercover
investigator. The informants monitored e-mails and conversations."
The police produced affidavits from these informers accusing
protesters of the most outlandish plans, including "kidnapping"
delegates and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Geneva
Finn of the National Lawyers Guild, which represents many of those
arrested, said it was impossible to judge the veracity of the
so-called evidence in the affidavit because "it’s all
based on the testimony of people who are not identified, and that’s
a real problem."
Based on these claims, on the eve of the convention the police
carried out raids at several protest headquarters—including
I-Witness Video, a New York-based group that monitors police conduct
during protests—detaining activists and seizing computers,
political literature and other property. The raids, which produced
no serious evidence to substantiate police claims of alleged violent
plans, were aimed at preempting the planned demonstrations by
intimidating and creating the pseudo-legal justification for mass
arrests for "conspiracy to commit riot."
Once again, as it did during the massive repression at the
Democratic National Convention in Denver, the national news media
has maintained a virtual silence about the police-state measures
being employed against political opposition.
In many cases, the local media has enthusiastically praised
the police crackdown. The Minneapolis Star Tribune published
a September 2 editorial, entitled, "An appropriate show of
The editorial noted that many citizens were dismayed by the
presence of police in riot gear in downtown streets, adding that
one onlooker the editorial writer passed by was heard saying,
"This can’t be happening in Minnesota."
"Thankfully, it was," the editorial flatly stated,
denouncing "rogue protesters who traveled to the Twin Cities
for no other reason than to damage property, abuse the police
and disrupt the business of the Republican National Convention."
Thanks to the "extensive planning" of St. Paul Mayor
Chris Coleman, Police Chief John Harrington, Ramsey County Sheriff
Bob Fletcher and other law enforcement officials, the editorial
concluded, "public safety have won out, so far, over anarchism
in the streets."
Police chief John Harrington commended the media for recognizing
the "heroic efforts" of his officers. "I like the
term that you in fact had coined, that what you saw today in the
face of numbers and agitation and mass criminals, was a restrained
use of force. And that I think is a very apt description of what
the officers today did."
Reacting to the police actions, Gina Berglund, an attorney
and legal observer for the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers
Guild, said, "We think it’s unconscionable. We think
it’s out of control. The response by the police was completely
out of proportion with what they were faced with."
Both the Democratic and Republican conventions—designated
as "National Security Events" under the jurisdiction
of the Homeland Security Department—have been used to test
out methods of widespread political repression. This must be taken
as a somber warning of the way mass opposition to war, social
inequality and attacks on democratic rights will be treated by
the state, whoever wins the election in November.