The protests against the Republican convention have barely begun, but the police have already begun their crackdown against anyone perceived to be involved the demonstrations. Police in the Twin Cities worked with federal officials to detain dozens of activists and conduct a series of coordinated raids on a number of locations. Among them was Democracy Now!’s Elizabeth Press, who was detained, along with several others, in a house raid on the video collective I-Witness Video. Press files a report from the streets of the Twin Cities. [includes rush transcript]
The protests against the RNC have barely begun, but the police have already begun their crackdown against anyone perceived to be involved in the protests. Police in the Twin Cities worked with federal officials to detain dozens of activists and conduct a series of coordinated raids on a number of locations. Five activists are still detained.
On Saturday afternoon, Democracy Now!’s Elizabeth Press was among those detained during a house raid here in St. Paul. She was — I-Witness Video with them — documenting police actions against protesters. Elizabeth Press filed this report for Democracy Now!
Dozens of activists are expected to descend on the Twin Cities this week to protest the policies of President Bush and his would-be successor John McCain. As they pour in from all over the country, many activists will be looking to the RNC Welcoming Committee for logistical support. The coalition was established in advance of the convention to provide meeting space, medical and legal support, food and housing to out-of-town activists.
On Friday night, after the Critical Mass bike ride ended peacefully, the RNC Welcoming Committee’s convergence space was raided. Michelle Gross, with Communities United Against Police Brutality, managed to record some video of the raid from the inside.
I’m a copwatcher, and I am recording this incident, and I am absolutely legally permitted to.
I came here at approximately 9:10 or so for a meeting, and about 9:20, the sheriffs — there was maybe ten or so sheriff guys came rushing up through the building, and then they started screaming "Get on the ground! Get on the floor! Get on the floor! Get on the floor!" — or on the ground, something like that. And they had guns, and they were waving their guns at us, waving their guns all over the place. It was really frightening. You know, so at first I thought it was like a joke or something. It didn’t feel real to me. But then I realized, man, I better get on the floor. So I started kind of trying to lower myself to the floor. I also pulled out my videocamera and quickly started filming. I was able to successfully film about four minutes of the raid itself. I don’t know what the film footage looks like, because I was — I had to keep it on the floor with me for a good bit of the time.
Sammy was inside with her five-year-old son Gabe, watching a movie.
SAMMY: We were in the convergence space watching a movie up on the second floor, when all of a sudden we hear cops pounding upstairs and pounding on a locked door. They proceeded to break through the door, their guns out and cocked and ready to fire, as everybody comes around, proceeded to tell everybody to get on the floor, hands behind their backs. This little one’s crying and scared, and the great people inside are singing songs, singing "Everything’s gonna be alright." It was absolutely wonderful, and it helped him out a lot. Finally, a couple of people got taken out, and I was one of the first ones to leave, because he was with me.
Legal observer, Sarah Coffey, read a statement on behalf of the RNC Welcoming Committee.
SARAH COFFEY: Assistant Police Chief Bostrom has talked about the St. Paul Standard, and on the anniversary of last year’s Critical Mass police riot, we saw its true face. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and the SPPD raided the RNC convergence space and detained over fifty people in an attempt to preempt planned protests at the RNC on Monday. Looking for items found at any Twin Cities house, like jars, paints and rags, this attempt to portray us as criminals and destroy our credibility has already backfired, as evidenced as the masses of people who have come to support us. We are now accused of simple fire code violations, which is outside of the scope of the sheriff’s department and clearly not justified provocation for a forceful raid with guns being drawn.
Mass protests against the Republican National Convention kick off on Monday, but police in St. Paul and Minneapolis waste little time in rolling out their intimidation tactics. As early as last week, Minneapolis police detained three independent journalists, confiscating their personal belongings. The journalists are all members of the New York City-based Glass Bead Collective. They are in town to document the actions in the streets surrounding the Republican National Convention. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman caught up with collective member Vlad Teichberg.
VLAD TEICHBERG: Right in front of the house where we’re staying, we got surrounded by two police cars. Like one came from one side. We thought it was just a regular car passing, but it was — suddenly the lights went on, and another car came. And they —- you know, first they said they were investigating people breaking into cars, and they wanted to search us. We said no. They put us up against the car and started searching us. It was two officers, a male and female, and I was with two women, so the woman searched the women, and the male officer searched me. And -—
When you say "searched," how did they search you?
VLAD TEICHBERG: Patted me down, in the beginning, and then they told us to go sit inside the car. We said, "Are we being arrested?" And they said, "No, you’re being detained."
Vlad and the other Glass Bead Collective journalists were detained and then released after their belongings were seized. This was the first documented case of police intimidation of journalists here at the RNC, and Vlad is certain that it won’t be the last.
VLAD TEICHBERG: So far, it’s about standoff between police and journalists. I mean, we — first we were the center of the story, now I-Witness is following. I think people in the mainstream media should watch out, because they’re next.
And media workers aren’t the only ones being targeted by the massive $50 million security operation here. Over the weekend, people carried out a series of raids on homes they alleged were linked to people who have come to disrupt the RNC.
FOOD NOT BOMBS MEMBER: It’s a Food Not Bombs house, so there’s a lot of food — like, a lot of food rotting. And I mean, like, there’s nothing going on in the house, like we were sleeping. Everyone was sleeping. I don’t think that there’s any banners being made, because there’s no paint materials really around. Like, there’s just a lot of food and cooking supplies mostly in the house.
Me and my partner were sleeping, and I was naked, and officers came and separated us and made me lie on the floor naked for about an hour. Then they proceeded to search and videograph everything that was there; they videotaped everything. And then, like they took pictures of everything, and now they’re going through it with a camera and filming everything, after taking multiple pictures, like they took like four pictures of the inside of the frigerator.
Officers and agents from the Minneapolis Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI collaborated on this raid. At least one person was arrested in the Food Not Bombs house, and this visiting activist talks about the charges.
FOOD NOT BOMBS ACTIVIST: It was a bunch of conspiracy charges: conspiracy to incite a riot, conspiracy to commit civil disobedience. They said they’re holding people that are — that live in the house.
Attorney Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, explains the charge.
BRUCE NESTOR: If they had concrete evidence of criminal activity, that could have been presented by a prosecutor to a judge, and a criminal arrest warrant would have been obtained. Instead, what we’ve had to date is that the police alone, or the sheriff’s office, has arrested people for probable cause without any input or review by a prosecutor or a judge. That allows them to hold them for thirty-six hours. And because the charge is conspiracy, it really drags in the whole kitchen sink to support the charge.
One lesson that has been learned from conventions past is that those who monitor the police often find themselves as the subject of police harassment. One of the most effective police watch groups is I-Witness Video. When I arrived in the Twin Cities, I met up with the I-Witness Video team in a house in St. Paul and soon found myself in the middle of a police raid.
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: And your name is again?
JOHN HAUSER: John Hauser.
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: John...
JOHN HAUSER: Hauser, with the FBI.
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: Hauser, FBI. And what’s your — what’s your position?
JOHN HAUSER: If he —
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: We need to close the door and lock the door. Do you have a warrant?
JOHN HAUSER: No.
SHERIFF: No we’re not here —
JOHN HAUSER: We’re not here with a warrant.
SHERIFF: We’re not here about the convention.
JOHN HAUSER: We’re not here for the convention.
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: They’re saying they’re not here for the convention.
SHERIFF: Any chance, like if I went and ate breakfast and came back, he might be here by then?
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: I haven’t seen him in a couple days, honestly, so I don’t know.
SHERIFF: OK, we’ll take [inaudible]. Alright, ladies, didn’t mean to hassle you.
The officers said they were not looking for information related to protests at the RNC. They soon left. But then, two hours later, the St. Paul police arrived in minivans with civilian license plates and stormed up to the house. They detained two people outside the house and surrounded the building with assault rifles in hand as they waited for their warrant to arrive. And while everyone waited, Denis Moynihan of Free Speech TV received a statement from the inside by Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video.
DENIS MOYNIHAN: I am going to bring up the statement that Eileen Clancy sent me at 2:17 p.m. Central time. And its subject line reads: "I-Witness Video is under house arrest in St. Paul." And the statement reads, "This is Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video, a New York City-based video collective, in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests at the Republican National Convention. The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave, we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16. We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1,800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers."
At about 3:00, their warrant came, but it was for the apartment next door. The police detained the owner of the building, who had nothing to do with I-Witness Video. The police then broke into the apartment through the attic —
OFFICER: Come out with your hands up!
—- with gun drawn, and detained me and the other remaining people -—
OFFICER: Police. See your hands. Put them on top of your head, please. On top of your head, please.
OFFICER: Everybody’s going to be fist-cuffed, so put your cameras down gently.
I-WITNESS VIDEO MEMBER: Should I put my medication in my bag, or should I leave it like —
ELIZABETH PRESS — and led us to the backyard. Eileen Clancy began describing what happened to the press.
EILEEN CLANCY: They’ve been detaining people for days around here. And they photographed us. They look through our materials. They copy our materials and don’t return them to you. And then you’re merely detained, so you don’t have the same situation where you have police officers swearing out affidavits, which we could prove was false. This seems to be a new technique.
Eventually, the lawyer for the building owner arrived on the scene.
LAWYER: Well, I think they held them without a warrant. There wasn’t a warrant on site. We asked to see the warrant at 1:15 and were not shown the warrant. They had the house surrounded.
We’d like to go over and interview them. Do you think that’s fine? We’re going to walk over — the press?
LAWYER: I do not believe my client would have an objection to being interviewed.
After being invited by the building owner to come onto his property, Amy hopped the fence and was confronted by the cops.
Mr. Whalen, is this your property? Can we interview you?
BUILDING OWNER: Yeah.
He’s giving us permission.
UNIDENTIFIED: Sir, he’s giving them permission —
OFFICER: Step back. I heard you. Step back. We need you to step back.
OFFICER: After we conclude the warrant you can come in. But you gotta, right now, step back.
But this is his property?
OFFICER: Climb over the fence, then.
Well, don’t push me. I’m a journalist here.
OFFICER: Move back. Move back.
Are these people being arrested?
DENIS MOYNIHAN: Get your hands off her!
OFFICER SCHUCK: [inaudible] being detained right now. I’m not in a position to say, because I’m not the investigating officer.
Do you — can you tell us, Officer Schuck, why they’re being detained?
OFFICER SCHUCK: As of right now, I’m here to help secure the scene, and that’s all I can tell you. That’s the information I’ve been given. The investigators are the ones that are dealing with this, so...
Are they cooperating?
OFFICER SCHUCK: As far as I know, yes.
Is their equipment is being taken, their cameras?
OFFICER SCHUCK: I can’t answer that, because I don’t know. I’m not involved in that part — aspect of the search warrant, so I do not know what they’re doing right now.
How many officers are involved?
OFFICER SCHUCK: I do not know. I’m here to secure the back scene, make sure everything’s peaceful, and that’s all I can tell you.
Did one of the officers have an AR-15 weapon?
OFFICER SCHUCK: I do believe I see — saw one officer with one, yes.
What was he going to use that for? Is that typical for the St. Paul police?
OFFICER SCHUCK: I’m sure it was here for scene protection, make sure that we’re all safe, in case something uneventful would occur.
Is there reason to believe these people are violent?
OFFICER SCHUCK: I don’t know. I don’t know anything about these people.
And that was the St. Paul police as I questioned them on the property, where Elizabeth Press of Democracy Now!, Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video, the owner of the house and others were handcuffed and seated. At that point, as we spoke, as the police were pushing me back, they ultimately released Elizabeth, Eileen and the group of people who had been detained there. Overall, they had been detained for several hours. The reason we were even in the backyard being able to see this is because the neighbor, who saw these reporters and activists being brought outside, decided it was important for the media to see, which was held across the street in the front, and she welcomed us onto her property, and people ran through her house and through her yard until they were at the back fence.
Elizabeth Press is with us right now in the studio. Elizabeth, you were ultimately released.
We were ultimately released. Shortly after the clip that you see there, we were released. And basically, they had gone through our possessions, but in the end they had not confiscated any of our cameras or any of our tapes or any of our belongings.
You were filming as the police officer came in with his pistol drawn. Were you afraid?
I was indeed a bit afraid. I was also afraid when he asked us to put our hands in the air, and I was holding up my camera, and I did not want him to mistake it for a gun, so I actually ended up putting it on my head.
Now, at the same time that this had happened to you, others had left the house riding their bicycles.
This is true. After we got the first visit from the federal agent, we decided it was time to move on from the house, because that seemed like a very interesting story, so we were going to go move on, but we didn’t realize that we were being tracked. And three members of I-Witness Video, including Marissa John and Emily Foreman, got on their bicycles, and they biked away from the scene.
This is Marissa John [phon.]. We caught up with her a couple blocks away, where they had been stopped by police.
MARISSA JOHN They searched all of our things. They looked through maps that we had. They looked through our notes. They looked up — they didn’t turn on the computers, but they were definitely looking through things and conferring with each other.
EMILY FOREMAN: The police that stopped us and searched us didn’t appear to know what they were searching for. They looked to be collecting as much information as possible basically about anyone that looks maybe like they’re an activist, maybe like they weren’t from Minnesota.
Emily Foreman and Marissa John, two of the activists who were stopped and held by police a couple blocks away. Elizabeth Press, why do you think this was done?
I think it’s intimidation on its face. Basically, a lot of people are getting raided, a lot of houses, a lot of convergence centers. And today is a big day of action in the streets, and if we lost a whole day on Saturday, I-Witness Video, in terms of preparing to document today on the streets, and that’s what I-Witness Video does, is sends videocameras out to political protests to document how the police are behaving and interacting with the activists. So we lost a day, in terms of organizing for Monday’s events.
Elizabeth Press, thanks very much for being with us. She is a Democracy Now! filmmaker here at the Republican National Convention.