By the next morning, the scene he was referring to would be known as the Battle of Mickey’s Diner. A breakout march had been swarmed upon and surrounded by hundreds of riot police near Mickey’s Dining Car, a downtown pre-fab Art Deco restaurant some 70 years old, pictured in films like The Mighty Ducks and A Prairie Home Companion, now a symbol of lost innocence. Although only 56 arrests were made, they followed a lengthy standoff between aggressive officers and largely peaceful protesters, whose primary acts of dissent were voicing insults.
The staggering display of force had gathered before any violence had occurred. In front of Mickey’s, dispersal orders were given, and the use of weapons threatened — but for hours no exits were open to marchers. One activist in a wheelchair was tear-gassed. As another protester put it, “It was terrifying. They offered us no way out.”
The Battle of Mickey’s Diner was one of many sites in St. Paul that saw the use of Triple Chaser grenades (the source of the popping sound I heard — the grenades are described by makers Defense Technology as having the potential to cause “serious damage to property” and “injury or death”), 40 mm Direct Impact rounds, pepper spray, Tasers, smoke bombs, mace, brand-new $650 Trek mountain bikes (if you’re confused why these might be listed in a manifest of weapons, you haven’t seen the video footage of officers rearing up on them and ramming into victims), and tactical training costing approximately $50 million received in a grant from the Department of Justice. Another deal netted the city an insurance policy whereby the Republican Host Committee would pay out the first $10 million to litigants for civil-rights violations — a number twice what other cities hosting RNCs have paid.
Although the St. Paul police would seem to have been the force behind such pointless acts of aggression, according to the Minnesota Independent, 3000 of the 3700 officers on duty were pulled in from outside of the city — or state. (I came across patrolmen from Senator John McCain’s home state of Arizona with the greatest frequency.) And, as recent political conventions have been dubbed “National Special Security Events” by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), safekeeping generally falls, in fact, to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force — a coalition that includes the FBI, the DHS, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
With backing of and funding from such agencies, the St. Paul police purchased gear and high-tech weaponry to ease the perpetration of violence, and developed a plan to absolve perpetrators from legal penalty. Without the massive display of force, Bob Fletcher — sheriff of Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul and Minneapolis — explained, “this town would have been destroyed.”
Of course, the goal was to silence those assembling and speaking against the platforms of one party in a two-party electoral system, against which dissent is constitutionally — and simply logically — guaranteed. These facts continue to appall the few who’ve heard them. Yet that most Americans aren’t even aware these police-state tactics were enacted was both a central part of the RNC crackdown strategy and represents a clear continuation of Bush administration policy.