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Hundreds of Jailed Protesters Held for 2+ Days Following Mass RNC Arrests

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The Ramsey County Court has begun to slowly process and release some of the nearly 300 people detained over the past few days. Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat reports. [includes rush transcript]

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StorySep 05, 2008“We Are Not Terrorists”: Activists with the RNC Welcoming Committee Speak Out Against Police Crackdown & Terrorism Charges
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


The Ramsey County Court has begun to slowly process and release some of the nearly 300 people detained over the past few days. These include medics, legal observers, journalists and anyone considered to be a protester. Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat filed this report with Elizabeth Press.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Protesters have been camped out on a grassy pavement outside the Ramsey County Jail since Tuesday. Many are friends with or related to those inside. Some are medics and legal observers. And others are simply here in solidarity with the detainees. Armed with food, water, blankets and medical supplies, and surrounded by heavily armed police, they’re waiting for those inside to be released, cheering as each one exits the jail.

    Larry Hildes is a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild. He described the scene outside the detention center Wednesday afternoon.

    LARRY HILDES: As we were outside the jail, where there’s a vigil going on for people who have been held now past the deadline to release them, a line of St. Paul cops just formed immediately in the area where the medics are treating folks who’ve been getting out of jail and standing there trying to stare at the people who are being treated.

    ANJALI KAMAT: We called Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher about the police presence around the jail support group. He told us he wasn’t aware of it. Coincidentally, the police retreated after a few tense moments. And then a man from the sheriff’s office appeared with a cart full of brown bag lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples.

    UNIDENTIFIED: We’re just coming up the sidewalk, going to offer everybody a bag lunch. Alright?

    PROTESTER: I’m a little confused and disoriented about the fact that I was told that it was from the sheriff department and they’re handing out bag lunches. And I’m wondering if they’re feeding people inside.

    ANJALI KAMAT: The odd arrival of the sheriff’s happy meals lightened the mood but did nothing to mitigate the long wait. We spoke to one young man who had been waiting all afternoon with his mother for his sister to be released. She was a street medic who had been arrested Monday.

    DETAINED MEDIC’S BROTHER: It’s St. Paul’s little Guantanamo.

    ELIZABETH PRESS: What does that mean?

    DETAINED MEDIC’S BROTHER: It means that there are a lot of people getting arrested and tortured and all that stuff, because, yeah, lots of people got beat in jail and tased, and basically that’s torture.

    ANJALI KAMAT: As the sun began to set, people slowly began to trickle out of the jail. Arraignments scheduled for the morning were completed only by 6:30 in the evening. Rebecca Sang from California was one of those let out. She had been picked up Tuesday from the outskirts of the Poor People’s rally.

    REBECCA SANG: I was watching them arrest somebody. And I don’t exactly know what happened, but the police started coming at me on their horses. And they just grabbed me. I really had no idea at the time why they could possibly want to do that. But I was really afraid, and I just went with them.

    ANJALI KAMAT: We asked Rebecca Sang what she had been charged with.

    REBECCA SANG: It was actually so ludicrous, I didn’t even believe it when I was — what they told me. They said I was under arrest for conspiracy for intent to use a poisonous substance.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Rebecca’s partner, Jason Johnson, had also been arrested Tuesday after being tasered by the police.

    REBECCA SANG: He was tasered three times and then wrestled to the ground. And he asked repeatedly for medical attention and didn’t get it for a really long time. His legs were paralyzed. It was really a bad scene. He needed the barbs from the tasers pulled out of his hips where he’d been hit. It was about an hour after we were first detained that that happened. And when he finally did get them removed, it wasn’t like they took him to the nurse or a doctor or anything like that. They actually just pulled them out of his side, like on the side of the cop car.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Jason Johnson is still in prison. Elizabeth West is a Durham, North Carolina-based activist who had spoken to Johnson Wednesday morning.

    ELIZABETH WEST: Jason’s huge and strong, and he’s this massive, wonderful, magical, beloved man. And he was tased with — he had four — he was tased with four handheld devices, three protrusion guns. He told me that he is still picking copper out of his hip injury. He has a four inch by one half-inch, about an eighth of an inch deep laceration on his ankle. He has lacerations on his face, his head, his torso. He has a black eye.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Sheriff Fletcher stopped by the jail later, and we asked him about the use of tasers.

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: You know, I haven’t heard any reports of that. I mean, there certainly is a possibility that out of the 320 — but you understand that the arrests were coordinated by the St. Paul Police Department with the assistance of Minneapolis. But, you know, we haven’t — I’m not aware of any tasings.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Sheriff Fletcher also commented on the conditions inside the prison.

    SHERIFF BOB FLETCHER: I don’t think you’ll get many complaints. We’ve worked closely with the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild. In fact, they had National Lawyers Guild attorneys and ACLU in our facility prior to this event. We talked about food, medication, conditions. And on that front, I think we’re doing very, very well. It is the largest number of people ever arrested in a twenty-four-hour period, 300 or so.

    ANJALI KAMAT: After spending over forty-eight hours in jail, Katherine Bonner-Jackson and Catherine Tolman were released Wednesday evening. They explained the charges against them and described what they had seen inside the Ramsey County Jail.

    KATHERINE BONNER-JACKSON: We were on the sidewalk, walking down the street with a group of people. We were surrounded by cops, about twenty cops on bikes, pepper-sprayed and arrested. I have three misdemeanors.


    KATHERINE BONNER-JACKSON: And they set our bail for $1,000, because we’re out-of-staters. People who are in-state with the same sort of crimes — actually, one girl with a felony, it got reduced, and she was released on her own recognizance without bail.

    CATHERINE TOLMAN: We did talk to a few of the inmates who had been there before, and they were like, “We never” — we got bottled water. They had never got bottled water. And we actually heard one of the guards saying, like, “Well, screw these NL — the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU people, because if they weren’t here, then we could act normal,” basically saying, like, we could break everyone’s civil liberties if these people weren’t here watching us because of these dumb protesters.

    ANJALI KAMAT: They also talked about a minor who had been questioned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents inside the prison and threatened with deportation proceedings.


    CATHERINE TOLMAN: Yeah. Oh, man, so one of our friends, who’s actually a minor, she got pulled out of the holding cell, and —

    KATHERINE BONNER-JACKSON: She’s a Jane Doe, though; she didn’t give her name.

    CATHERINE TOLMAN: Right. She got pulled out of the holding cell, and the ICE officer was interrogating her and saying, you know, “This is an investigation.” And she said, “I’d like to, you know, uphold my Fifth Amendment rights.” And he said, “Alright, if you’re going to play that game…” And then he asked her, “Where were you born?” And she said “I’m going to remain silent and uphold my Fifth Amendment rights.” And he said, “Alright, then you’re going to go to federal prison,” and he sent her back into the holding cell. I mean just blatant coercion and empty threats, but terrifying.

    KATHERINE BONNER-JACKSON: She spoke to an immigration lawyer like immediately afterwards, and the lawyer said that it’s a completely illegal coercion tactic and that they’re probably going to be filing a lawsuit against the officers.

    ANJALI KAMAT: When we asked the sheriff about this, he told us that ICE agents were at the Ramsey County Jail for an unrelated matter and was not aware of them questioning any of the RNC detainees.

    Many people we spoke to complained about how they were treated by the police at the time of their arrest. Duncan Hardy from Raleigh, North Carolina was among the worst hit, with clear injuries to his arms, legs and face. He had gone straight to a health center after his release. We spoke to him when he returned to help with jail support for his friends inside.

    DUNCAN HARDY: And there was, you know, maybe eighty men who were six-foot-two, weighed 180 pounds, in SWAT uniform marching down Kellogg at the people, you know, whose arms were locked. And I saw them mace a girl in the park, which is a permitted area to be in. And it really just set me off, so I wrapped my shirt around my eyes with water, and I walked out in front of them and just sort of stood there until they, you know, threw me to the ground, smashed my face in and maced me in my eye and my ear ’til I passed out.

    I was actually told, because I passed out on the scene, you know, they had somebody from the hospital there. And I can’t — I couldn’t make a sentence. But I asked them, you know, “I think I hit my head, I think I need medical treatment.” And they said, “Well, it’s not on the front of your head. There’s nothing on the front of your head, so it must be on the back of your head.” And I asked them to check the back of my head, and they said there wasn’t anything there either. So, other than the person there, who — I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t see — who told me that I had, you know, no injuries, I received no medical attention whatsoever.

    ANJALI KAMAT: While some of those detained over the week have been released and had their charges reduced, eight individuals affiliated with the RNC Welcoming Committee were charged Wednesday morning, under Minnesota’s version of the PATRIOT Act, with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. Jordan Kushner is a lawyer defending some of the RNC detainees at the Ramsey County Jail. We asked him about the terrorism charges as he came out of the courtroom.

    JORDAN KUSHNER: This is a political prosecution in its purest form, because no one is actually accused of physically doing anything that would be violent or destroying property or doing anything. They were in jail when it happened. They’re accused — they’re being prosecuted specifically for their political activities and what they advocated.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Longtime activist Lisa Fithian was also helping with jail support. She had been detained at gunpoint earlier in the day, along with fellow peace activist Laurie Arbeiter and Hal Muskat.

    LISA FITHIAN: A lot of people have been hurt here, and a lot of people are continuing to be hurt in the jails, and I’m most concerned about them. I was not afraid when they pulled us over. But I just — I’m outraged at the blatant continued violations of people’s rights here, not that I ever thought we had tons of political rights in this country, but I’d never seen it quite as bad as I’ve seen it here. The St. Paul model really trumps the Miami model at many, many levels.

    And so, my greatest concern right now, aside from people’s safety on the street, is getting people out of jail and ending the police brutality in jail and the beatings that are happening, is, I think, the critical priority. We need people’s help from all around the country to put pressure on the mayor here, Mayor Coleman, and the sheriff, and say end this brutality, cease and desist, and the harassment and the intimidation and the violence on the street against people, and let our people go. Drop those charges and let them go.

    ANJALI KAMAT: For Democracy Now!, this is Anjali Kamat with Elizabeth Press in St. Paul.

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