Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

VIDEO: RNC Clusterfuck ’08: Six Months Later

Posted in activism, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 25, 2009
I-Witness Video members and friends in handcuffs during a police raid on their house in St. Paul, August 30, 2008. (AP: Matt Rourke)

I-Witness Video members and friends in handcuffs during a police raid on their house in St. Paul, August 30, 2008. (AP: Matt Rourke)

I just received this e-mail from Eileen Clancy, an activist and member of the watchdog group, I-Witness.

Hello Allison,
We have begun the process of filing suit regarding our treatment at the hands of law enforcement in St. Paul during the RNC. A press release is attached.

Six months after the RNC, the government has charged only 15 percent of the 800 people the police arrested in that period. On Friday, the St. Paul City Attorney announced that he would not prosecute 323 people arrested in a single round-up on the final night of the convention.

Since most potential RNC litigants are approaching the 180-day statutory deadline for giving notice to municipalities in Minnesota, we should have a better sense of the scope of the civil lawsuits contemplated in relation to the RNC fairly soon.

– Eileen

###

Eileen and I-Witness were routinely harassed at the Republican National Convention (RNC.) By the way, this is the same RNC during which Amy Goodman was violently arrested. During the RNC (and after some initial harassment from local police, including the suspicious mass arrest and release of I-Witness,) I received an urgent email from Clancy.

The police were surrounding her office…again.

Police have arrived at our office in St. Paul. They say that they have
received reports of hostages barricaded in the building. We are behind a
locked door. Lawyers are outside dealing with them. 

– Eileen

That  was the second encounter I-Witness had with police at the RNC. The first encounter occurred on August 30 when seven members were preemptively detained at the house where the group was staying. The police were basically harassing the protest group, who are peaceful, and whose only intent was to videotape the protests.

Such was the general chaos of the RNC. I was routinely e-mailed by journalists, who were fairly certain of their impending arrest.

I had my own run-in with St. Paul’s police state when I was trying to gather information about Amy Goodman’s arrest for Huffington Post. 

Something called the Joint Information Center was set up to monitor all of the hubub that occurs when — ya’ know — a city jails hundreds of activists exercising their right to freedom of speech and protest. My name and press credentials were taken down a few times by various ominous, anonymous foot soldiers.

These are the notes I took during the investigation. I was making inquiries as to the whereabout of Amy Goodman, and the two Democracy Now producers (Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar) with whom she was arrested.

11:00PM EST: The Ramsey County Jail redirected me to something called the “Joint Information Center.” Under a little pressure, the operator finally revealed his name (Sgt. William Palmer,) though he asked for my name (had me spell it twice) and asked for my phone number in exchange. Friendly stuff.

Palmer informed me that Kouddous and Salazar will be held in jail overnight until they are taken to court tomorrow. No one knows what they are being charged with, but Palmer attributes their arrest to “suspicious behavior.”

Kouddous and Salazar are still being held without any formal charges.

11:22PM: Apparently, one of the job qualifications for working at the JIC (Joint Information Center) is that you must have the scariest voice in the world. I spoke with a Coast Guard named Chief Bauman, who again took down my information: name, phone number, website I write for, etc. He had me spell my name twice and repeat my phone number three times.

The JIC seems to exist less to help media representatives and more to intimidate the hell out of them. For instance, I wondered aloud why I couldn’t directly speak to a media representative and first had to pass through Bauman’s filter. Bauman explained he was a conduit between reporter and information.

I then asked Bauman why the JIC was staffed with police officers and Coast Guards seemingly naive to the ways of media. He informed me that he was working at the JIC for “security purposes.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, I see there’s a lot of security at the RNC.” He didn’t laugh.

Bauman said he didn’t know what court Kouddous and Salazar are being taken to in the morning. He said he would get back to me.

###

This is the state of modern protest. You can protest, but only if you have a permit, you stand back 500 feet from the target of your dispute, you stay behind the barbed wires, and only use a bullhorn if you have another permit. It’s neutered dissent. And even if you obey all their little rules, you get bullied and harassed like Eileen Clancy and Amy Goodman.

And Clancy and Goodman weren’t even protesting. One is a representative of a watchdog group, and the other is a highly respected journalist. Imagine what they do to the poor kids and students, who are usually doing nothing more than operating inside the guidelines of the law, when the cops pick them up off the street.

If the dull tool of bureaucracy hasn’t chipped away enough from America’s monument to civil disobedience, the watchful Sauron-esque eye of the government is threatening to blast it into smithereens. As I wrote over at Huffpost, last year’s DNC and RNC were both laboratories for the newest, most high-tech toys for the intelligence community. Denver dropped $50 million on the police state project.

In an interview with Democracy Now, Erin Rosa, a reporter for the Colorado Independent, explained that Denver seemed to be seriously bracing for a stand-off between the police and protesters [during the DNC], to the point where the Colorado Army National Guard constructed a makeshift barracks in the far east region of the city:

They’re not saying what the purpose is for nearly 400 people to be stationed in this private university. They’re actually going to be stationed at Johnson & Wales University in the eastern region of the city, you know, more than 400 troops in that one area. They rented more than 500 rooms across the city. And they’re not saying what the purpose will be for, but they have confirmed that it will be all Colorado National Guard personnel.

So while Denver would be immersed in a total police state, what sort of behavior could individuals expect from their new intelligence and censorship overlords? In the same interview, Mike German, National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, warned protesters that new guidelines for what constitutes suspicious terrorist-like activity may include some pretty basic elements of protesting:

The Los Angeles Police Department issued an order compelling their officers to report criminal and non-criminal suspicious behavior that can be indicative of terrorism, and they listed sixty-five behaviorsOne of the precursor behaviors to terrorism that’s identified in the order is taking video. And we put in our report a couple of instances where people taking video were stopped by police officers simply for taking pictures or video. And in some cases, particularly where they’re taking photographs or video of police, it actually resulted in arrests.

I argued this would put quite a damper on many grassroots responses to this kind of intelligence/police state bullying, particularly I-Witness, a group created to protect citizens from the attacks of overzealous police authorities. Clancy, the founder of I-Witness Video, explained that it’s important to keep a video log of every protest (complete with date and time displayed clearly on the camera) should the footage be needed as evidence in later court hearings.

Clancy also explained that the Deputy Chief of Operations in Denver testified before the House subcommittee that they see the DNC fusion center as an opportunity to make permanent a “super fusion center.” Clancy said the Denver crew is going to take their government allocated $50 million and “play with their new toys,” and they are going to build a permanent and more powerful surveillance apparatus for Colorado.

…yaaaaay.

At the time, Clancy offered these words of wisdom to future generations of activists:

“The federal government is trying to criminalize video because it has tremendous power to expose bad acts by the police and federal agents. The best way for people to document police misconduct is to band together in video activist groups such as I-Witness Video, work in pairs or affinity groups, protect their footage by making back-up copies, publish their work in the media or on the Internet, and vigorously challenge any arrests, detentions and police orders to erase photos or videotapes. The First Amendment offers tremendous protection to people videotaping the police at work, but we must fight to maintain our right to shoot.”

Now it’s time to see if Eileen Clancy and the members of I-Witness will receive some delayed justice, and if the police and government officials in St. Paul will acknowledge any wrong-doing.

Please remind Mr. Coleman and Mr. Pawlenty that the behavior of law officials was (at best) overzealous, and at worst, totally fascist and unnecessary:

Contact Mayor Chris Coleman at: 651-266-8510 or e-mail him.
Governor Tim Pawlenty can be reached at: (651) 296-3391 or e-mailed at tim.pawlenty@state.mn.us.

I-Witness press release: First Step in RNC Lawsuits Taken.

Watch videos of the arrests


Amy Goodman is arrested

Police shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters

The first I-Witness raid

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