« September 2008 »

Memo to the St. Paul Police Department: GREAT JOB.

You can say what you like about the Republican National Convention here in the Twin Cities - that it was a snoozefest, a disinformation Nirvana, that it wrapped up all the insecurities of the ruling class of assholes, tied it in a red, white, and blue bow, and presented it to the American people like a proud cat with a dead mouse in its mouth. But you cannot deny that the St. Paul Police Department did its job, and did it extraordinarily well.

Of course, the only way to justify THAT evaluation with a straight face is to understand what their job was. Which is not the same as what they -said- their job was, which was to keep public property and the delegates safe from harm last week. That wasn't the job they did. The job they did, and did so incredibly well, was to ensure that the people in power be spared even the slightest discomfort as a result of their actions, and discourage anyone in the future from speaking out.

Evaluating this kind of large-scale police action is difficult. Reports are sketchy, and chock-full of bias. The police never admit to crossing any lines, ever. And there are protesters who think that a brick through an unaffiliated downtown window is protected speech. But there are some measures to look at and find out who the police are protecting and serving in cases like this. Are they protecting the people, or just a very small percentage of the people?

For example, arresting journalists. This is a big one. When it comes to separating out violent protesters from law-abiding citizens, journalists are the easy ones. They carry cameras, or at least credentials. If you're arresting journalists, you're not protecting society, because as much as I bitch about the awful journalism going on in the cable news world, we still need independent observers to keep everyone honest, especially in situations like this. Rounding up at least thirty journalists in sweeps, from AP photographers to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, confiscating their equipment, and issuing them citations is NOT the hallmark of responsible, community-oriented policing.

Second, we need to look at what people are being charged with. Take, for example, the Thursday protests, in which several hundred people were arrested for marching on the last day of the convention. Most of them (including journalists) were cited for "unlawful assembly". Which, as crimes go, seems to clearly violate the spirit of the First Amendment, and boil down to "you were here when we didn't want you here". The reason their assembly was unlawful? They were marching after their marching permit had expired.

Now, I know we're all really conditioned now to shudder at the various messy things permitted in a free society, and to sigh with relief whenever lines of riot-gear troopers tear gas the living hell out of the dirty stinky hippies who are deluded into thinking that protesting makes a difference, but just look at some of the concepts up there. "Unlawful assembly". "Expired marching permit." This is the bureaucracy employing force to keep us all comfortable and under control, and no matter how much it soothes your suburban soul that it's happening, it's not actually the way America was supposed to work.

Amy Goodman was charged with "conspiracy to riot", which is just fascinating - apparently interviewing protesters means you're on-site planning a riot. There's a whole disturbing "pre-crime" presumption of guilt mentality to the week, from the police raids before the convention, to the federal infiltration of anti-war groups that set UP the raids, to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher's statement after police herded 200 protesters onto a bridge and arrested them Thursday. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"The tactic of blocking people on the bridge could very well have prevented a lot of activity later tonight. Clearly there were a number of people with no intention of being law-abiding tonight." - Really, Kreskin? This is the kind of shit that should send chills down our spines, but we're too invested in our own comfort to care.

Some other things to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks, that we don't have numbers on yet. How many of the charges will be dismissed? How many cases will even go to court? How many convictions will they get? Of the 818 people arrested because of RNC protests, how many of them actually committed crimes? And how many of those committed crimes that are actually crimes - actions that harm society? I'll bet that when the final numbers come in, they'll show that the St. Paul police did their job quite well.