"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


September 18, 2008

A thorough investigation into official misconduct at the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions is needed to find out who is responsible for the unjustified arrests of hundreds of citizens and dozens of journalists, as well as the casual and indiscriminate use of tear gas and percussion grenades.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that city officials in St. Paul, Minnesota, have "appointed two former federal prosecutors to review the planning and strategies used by the police before and during the [2008 Republican National C]onvention" (Colin Moynihan, "Questions Emerge over Police Conduct in St. Paul," Sept. 16, 2008).

But according to one of the two former Republican federal prosecutors appointed, "the independent review will not be a fact-finding mission to explore allegations of police wrongdoing or violations of people's rights" (Chris Havens, "Independent Review Will Focus on St. Paul's Security Plans," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Sept. 9, 2008). A spokesperson for the St. Paul police department even congratulated himself on "a safe and successful convention," according to the Times.

Only an authoritarian, however, could consider St. Paul a success. For one thing, the casual and often unprovoked use of riot-control chemicals set the convention apart. "'It was an unprecedented show of police presence and display of force,' said Bruce Nestor, the president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is defending many of those arrested," the Times reported. "'Minnesota has never seen this level of militarization of local police.'"

According to the Times, "more than 800 people, including about two dozen credentialed journalists, were arrested. Dozens more were handcuffed and photographed without being accused of any crime. And police officers in some instances used pepper spray, tear gas, bullets made of plastic and foam, and flash grenades that exploded with a burst of light and a sharp bang."

One St. Paul city councilman, David Thune, is asking: "When clearly the bulk of the peaceful people weren't joining in a riot, why did we have to go to the extent of using tear gas and percussion grenades? People weren't supposed to get trapped by police or forced into situations where they could be arrested."

"New York City still faces more than 500 federal court claims stemming from police tactics [at the 2004 RNC]," the Times said. "While 1,800 people were arrested at that 2004 convention, there were a proportionately high number of arrests in St. Paul, where the protests were much smaller."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that local businesses are bemoaning a lack of business during the convention (Gita Sitaramiah, "Chamber Official Regrets Buildup for RNC Business," Sept. 17, 2008). But in this article at least, it has not a word to say about what Amy Goodman recently described as the "[m]ass arrests of peaceful protesters, excessive police violence, wholesale disregard for the Bill of Rights, and the targeting and arrest of journalists [which] marred what should have been celebrations of democracy" (Amy Goodman, "The Party Police," ZSpace, Sept. 10, 2008).

The prize-winning anchor of Democracy Now! says that according to Bruce Nestor, "St. Paul actually negotiated a special insurance provision with the Republican host committee so that the first $10 million in liability for lawsuits arising from the convention will be covered by the host committee. The city is very proud of this negotiation. It's the first time it's been negotiated between a city and the host committee. But it basically means we [the city] can commit wrongdoing, and we won't have to pay for it."

Goodman also says that "more than 40 journalists were arrested or detained during the Republican National Convention," almost twice the "about two dozen" reported in the New York Times on Sept. 16. She notes that while the police are supposed to arrest criminals, in this case "it was the police who were the assailants. And they arrested their victims," including Amy Goodman herself.

What happened this year at the conventions is nothing less than "a national disgrace," Amy Goodman says: "In Denver, but particularly in St. Paul, dissent was crushed with a massive array of paramilitarized police, operating under the U.S. Secret Service, granted jurisdiction over the 'National Special Security Events' that the conventions have been dubbed. Corporations pay millions to the host committees, earning exclusive access to lawmakers and candidates. The host committees, in turn, unleash police on the public, all but guaranteeing injuries, unlawful arrests, and expensive civil litigation for years to come."

The author of Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times concluded: "Throughout the convention week, one of the 25 remaining typeset copies of the Declaration of Independence was on display at St. Paul City Hall -- not far from where crowds were pepper-sprayed, clubbed, tear-gassed, and attacked by police with concussion grenades. As the clouds clear, it is instructive to remember the words of one of the Declaration's signers, Benjamin Franklin: 'They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.'"

It should be of special concern that this massive violation of the civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution was organized by the United States Secret Service. United for Peace of Pierce County (WA) joins those calling for a prompt and thorough investigation into official misconduct at the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."