politics

Anarchy at the RNC Protests

Kristina is a proud Minnesotan, mom, wife, lawyer and dear old friend of mine. She's been extremely (ridiculously) well-versed in all matters political since I met her at Occidental College, where she and my sister were roommates. (Obama went to Oxy, too, by the way. We're a stately bunch.) After college, Kristina got married to her soul mate and finished law school. She and Eduardo had a baby (Johan) this year. I tell you all this, because Kristina called me up today and explained that, despite being the mother of an amazing kid, she was trying to counteract the onset of "momishness" by participating as a legal observer at the RNC demonstrations in her home town, the great city of Minneapolis, and St. Paul.

High-wasted pants? Momish. (And an existential crisis Kristina’s not guilty of, to my knowledge.)

Spraining your ankle? Could be momish.

Choking on pepper spray? Nope. Definitely not momish.

She's letting me repost part of her blog, Radio KBLA Live, here:

RNC

I spent Labor Day as a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer at the anti-RNC marches and protests in St. Paul. Legal observers are not to participate in protests or actions, but are there to observe and document the actions (read: abuses) by police.

I will post pictures once I get the ok from NLG-- since some of them may be needed as evidence, I don't want to do anything to break the chain of evidence or create anything to decrease the evidentiary value.

As we headed toward the river in downtown St. Paul, we saw several young guys seated and handcuffed at the train tracks. One of them was clearly in distress, his face red and blistered, his eyes watering and he looked to be struggling to breathe. Their friend who had managed to avoid arrest told me they had sat down in the street, and police approached, telling them to get out of the street while spraying pepper spray at the same time. It took paramedics 20 minutes to arrive to begin cleaning the kid's eyes and face. The arrestees sat in the 90 degree sun, handcuffed, unable to wipe their brows or drink water. We remained at this scene for nearly an hour, taking pictures and trying to get information from the police:

Us: Where are you taking them?

Police: Jail.

Us: What jail.

Police: Jail.

After some time, the police officers moved the arrestees to "the shade" -- an area behind a fence where we could no longer access the arrestees or observe what was going on. There didn't seem to be many trees in the "shade," but just a fence to keep the arrestees from talking to their friends or us. Before they were taken away, one of the arrestees, a young red-headed kid, said to me: "NLG? Can you take a picture of my face, so they'll know I was taken?" I did as he asked, and thought, is this Chile circa 1973? The disappeared? Good god.

I should note that the majority of police officers present at this scene were from Milwaukee. Only one St. Paul cop. And he was the one who responded to our questions, and acknowledged our presence in any real way. The others refused to say their names and seemed to do all they could to cover up or hide their badges.

We left a couple of our NLG colleagues to continue trying to observe what was going on, and walked along the river to try to catch up with the march. We never did see the main march and rally, because before we got there, we happened upon the anarchists.

Now, mainstream media has described the break-away marchers and anarchists as violent and out of control. Believe me, the majority of these people are skinny teenagers in dresses and pink wigs; black bandanas and patches on their jeans; dred-locked and weapon-free. They are not dangerous. However, they were outside the perimeter/parameters of the "approved" protest. As we arrived, they were in the street, dancing, milling about. Ironically or not, this was taking place in front of the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School. We saw some cops in shorts ride by on bicycles. Two protesters tipped over a garbage can. I braced myself for arrest and perhaps violent over-reaction by the police. Nothing. I waited. Nope, no officers did anything about the tipped-over garbage.

I wondered why.

We continued up the street that hugs the river, and saw why. The National Guard had been called in. The military and the police were assembling their riot gear. The military formed a shoulder-to-shoulder chain, fully armed, ready for combat. With the kids in pink wigs. These anarchists were not breaking windows, not throwing bricks, jars of urine, or anything else. They were just there.

At that point, an officer picked up a megaphone. His voice came through scratchy and unclear. I heard the words "final warning or..." but nothing else. Some minutes later, I asked some non-anarchist protesters (a middle-aged mother and her teenage daughters wearing Abercrombie and peace-sign earrings) what they heard, and they confirmed that all they heard was his voice, but could not make out the words.

Soon enough, a vehicle that looked like an ambulance arrived at the scene. Instead of paramedics came more police officers. It was not an ambulance, but a vehicle carrying tear gas, smoke, pepper spray, and rubber bullets and guns. "Non-lethal" weapons.

The line of police approached the small group of anarchists. I felt afraid, not of the anarchists, but of the riot-gear-laden armed paramilitary that was sent out to "protect" us from them. At that point, a plume of purple smoke rose up. The sound of rubber bullets being shot filled the air. As I tried to get close enough to the violence to record what was going on, my stupid right ankle that has failed me on so many occasions twisted and I fell to the ground. I sprained my right ankle and got a nasty cut on my left knee.

Damn.

I hobbled to a bench and found some medics. Once they were done helping a kid who had been pepper-sprayed clean his eyes and face, they wrapped my ankle and bandaged my knee.

Knowing I was unable to run if necessary, I suggested to my comrades that we make our way back to the muster site. As we made our way slowly through downtown St. Paul, we saw the broken Macy's window. Yes, someone broke it. One person. Not "the anarchists." One person. We continued to walk, and our eyes and faces began to burn. The pepper spray and tear gas had traveled a long way, and worried I wouldn't be able to run if I needed to, we found a taxi and got a ride the rest of the way.

That evening, Eduardo had to carry Johan into the house because I didn't want to get chemicals on Johan if any remained on my skin. I felt a rush of emotions. Proud that so many people came to protest and resist the RNC. Ashamed at the over-reactions, abuses, and violence by law enforcement. Inspired to fight even harder for Obama.

After having some time to reflect, I think one of the main reasons the conflicts between protesters and law enforcement have been so numerous and confrontational goes back to a flaw in assigning officer duties. On Monday, as we exited the highways, I saw lots of officers from all over Minnesota directing traffic and guarding bridges. Officers from Minnesota know Minnesota and know Minnesotans. They are (somewhat) politically accountable for their actions and they (hopefully) became police officers to serve Minnesota and their communities. Yet, there they were, acting as glorified traffic lights.

By contrast, the officers I saw approaching, arresting, beating, spraying, and shooting marchers were from Milwaukee, Chicago, Tucson, and even L.A. These out-of-state officers are from larger, more violent cities with long histories of aggression with the people in their communities. They will leave St. Paul on Friday or Saturday. They will have face no accountability for their actions while here. They are the ones who should have been directing traffic, while officers from St. Paul, Elk River, Richfield, Bloomington, and other local cities should have been interacting with the protesters.

On the way back to Minneapolis with Sarah and Charlie, we dug through my CDs and ended the day in just the right way.

This land is your land

This land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Red Wood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters

This land was made for you and me.

And even the anarchists. In their pink wigs and black bandanas; physically abused; handcuffed and arrested; charged with "presence at an unlawful assembly." This land was made for you and me, and them too.