As the Republican National Convention opens today here in Cleveland, Ohio, we look now at the protests in the street. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service have reportedly knocked on the doors of dozens of Cleveland activists, demanding to know if they are organizing protests at the Republican National Convention. Law enforcement agents have reportedly also made phone calls to relatives, neighbors and places of employment, asking about the activists’ whereabouts. Many of the activists say they have no involvement in the RNC protests and are being targeted for their prior work with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Wall Street movement. On Sunday, Democracy Now!'s Deena Guzder and Elizabeth Press spoke to activists Robin Adelmann and Samuel Carpenter, who say they were targeted by the FBI. Democracy Now! also sat down with the NAACP's Michael Nelson and National Lawyers Guild’s Jocelyn Rosnick.
AMY GOODMAN: We are “Breaking with Convention: Power, Peace and the Presidency,” two weeks of two-hour daily coverage, first from the Cleveland Republican convention all this week and then from Philadelphia, the Democratic convention next week. I’m Amy Goodman.
As the Republican convention opens today here in Cleveland, we look now at the protests in the streets. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service have reportedly knocked on the doors of dozens of Cleveland activists, demanding to know if they’re organizing protests here the RNC. Law enforcement agents have reportedly also made phone calls to relatives, neighbors and places of employment, asking about the activists’ whereabouts.
Many of the activists say they have no involvement in the RNC protests and are being targeted for their prior work with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Several activists say they believe they came on the radar of local law enforcement after attending a 2015 protest following the acquittal of Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo for a fatal shooting of two [unarmed] African Americans in their car, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
In a statement to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, FBI spokeswoman said agents were conducting community outreach as a part of their security planning for the RNC. However, activists say the visits are intimidating and designed to discourage people from engaging in lawful First Amendment activities, a claim supported by the Ohio chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU and the NAACP.
Well, on Sunday, Democracy Now!’s Deena Guzder and Elizabeth Press spoke to activists who say they were targeted by the FBI.
ROBIN ADELMANN: My name is Robin Adelmann. And a few years back, I was part of Occupy Cleveland, doing activism. And most recently, a year ago, I was arrested downtown for protesting the Michael Brelo verdict, and was a part of that activism. And then, so, just recently, the FBI and the Cleveland detectives, two weeks ago, came to my apartment looking for information. They knocked on my door right when I was walking to open it to leave for work, and they had a clipboard with my mugshots on it, because I’d been arrested before. So, I instantly saw that and thought that they were there for me, so I was instantly scared. And in my kind of like panicky feeling, I like invited them right in and stuff. And I was really cooperative, but they just didn’t seem to—like, when I was telling them that I didn’t really—they wanted information, like what’s going to happen. “Do you know where there’s going to be protests? Like, where is this going to be? Where is that going to be?” And I honestly didn’t know. So I was like, “I don’t know.”
SAMUEL CARPENTER: My name is Samuel Carpenter. I work at the bookstore named Guide to Kulchur. We have a press, and we print books of poetry. We have a couple of novels, a magazine and a creative journal. I’ve done work with Food Not Bombs before in the past. It’s a volunteer gig. You’re just giving people food that can’t always get it.
DEENA GUZDER: Samuel, what happened late last month, when an FBI agent and a police detective came to your house?
SAMUEL CARPENTER: They came to my house, expressed that they were canvassing about this anarchist bookstore named Guide to Kulchur, which it is not, and basically just like scared my mother, freaked her out, because, you know, they’re saying that they’re looking for radical anarchists. The FBI agent expressed that he’s done counterterrorist unit work overseas. And, you know, it was just like ridiculous. Is it 1984 now, that we’ve—we’re getting approached by people of the law because you read books?
MICHAEL NELSON: Michael Nelson, president, the Cleveland branch, NAACP. I’ve been asked whether or not I believe police and other law enforcement are targeting Black Lives Matter and other activists. No doubt.
DEENA GUZDER: I want to ask you about one of your clients, Jasmine Bruce. Can you tell us who she is and what happened to her?
MICHAEL NELSON: A Cleveland police officer, along with a partner, went to the home of her parents, knocked on the door, asked to speak to Jasmine. Her stepfather came to the door to ask, “Well, is she in trouble?” “Oh, no, no, she’s not in trouble. We just want to talk to her.” “Well, she’s not here.” The mother overheard this conversation, came to the door and said, “Why do you want to talk to my daughter?” “Well, we just want to ask some questions about anything she knows about protests.” She says, “What do you mean? My daughter is in school.” As I indicated, Jasmine was involved in one protest, that was brought on by the outrage of this Brelo acquittal. She’s not been involved in anything since then. And if she did know, she wasn’t going to tell them. But the fact of the matter, she was not aware of anything, nor is she active with respect to the RNC.
JOCELYN ROSNICK: My name is Jocelyn Rosnick, and I’m co-coordinator of the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. About three weeks ago, prior to the RNC, we started to receive messages from a variety of different community members and activists, letting us know that various special agents were showing up at their door asking them questions. We know that they have cast a pretty wide net in their so-called intelligence gathering. It’s not just the FBI special agents, but also agents with the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, as well as Cleveland Division of Police officers. And they’re reaching out to a number of different groups and organizations. Some individuals who have received door knocks simply hang out at the wrong bookstore. Other individuals who have been targeted by these door knocks are individuals who were arrested after the acquittal of Michael Brelo, May of 2015, as well as some individuals who really haven’t been active in any sort of protest activity for a number of years. So the fact that law enforcement agencies is asking individuals questions and simply knocking on doors is not illegal, it’s not unconstitutional; however, we are concerned that their intelligence gathering has crossed the line from asking questions and trying to gather information to intimidation and, in some cases, harassment, where they are repeatedly knocking on the same door, very loud, very aggressively, as well as returning to the same home multiple days in a row.
DEENA GUZDER: Jocelyn, the RNC is about to kick off, and your group has been giving legal advice and holding civil rights trainings for protesters who are going to be involved in the numerous demonstrations throughout the week. What should a protester who has a run-in with a cop do?
JOCELYN ROSNICK: So, individuals should do everything they can to de-escalate the situation themselves. If they are stuck in a bad situation, if things have escalated and there might be a mass arrest and they’re trapped and they cannot get out of that situation, then they should know to call the jail support hotline at (216) 5050-654, or NLG. Additionally, we do have individuals that will be out on the streets with demonstrators. We train and dispatch legal observers, who are the eyes and the ears of the legal team. They’re not out there demonstrating themselves. They’re third-party observers, and they are identifiable by wearing a bright lime green baseball hat that says “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer,” or a bright lime green T-shirt.
AMY GOODMAN: National Lawyers Guild, Jocelyn Rosnick. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Deena Guzder and Elizabeth Press.