“That show of force was so overwhelming, and that’s before we even got to the street,” says Emily Forman, member of the New York–based I-Witness Video collective (which, according to its Web site, “uses groundbreaking techniques to harness the power of video to protect civil liberties and the right to use public space”), referring to the pre-emptive raid police led on the I-Witness Video house the next morning, as well as other police actions that week. I-Witness Video was targeted in daily raids at the RNC because of their success in assisting civil-rights cases at the 2004 RNC. “That’s what was so terrifying to me.”
But it wasn’t just radical videographers and independent media makers who were hounded by an overwhelming, federally funded force. Impartial legal observers, too, were harassed, as the on-the-ground legal-support network to assist RNC protesters, the six-member Twin Cities–based Coldsnap Legal Collective, explains.
“These officers did their best to hamper legal-support efforts,” writes Coldsnap in a group e-mail, “as well as support efforts from street medics, groups providing free meals, and other groups.” Such tactics, the e-mail continues, included “the police forming lines of horse cops and riot cops along the peaceful jail vigil outside the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center (LEC), the cops illegally dropping arrestees off in remote locations miles from the LEC without money or phones so they couldn’t receive support from the jail vigil, and the cops arresting activists who were part of the Coldsnap street team.”
For many observers, even independent ones, the crackdowns at the RNC went above and beyond what we’ve come to call police brutality.The aftermath
Incidents of abuse and torture, while compelling, do not tell the entire story. A vast machinery of surveillance, misinformation, infiltration, harassment, and good, old-fashioned legal ass-covering predicated the stultification of constitutionally guaranteed rights to free assembly and speech. In a supposed effort to protect citizens, the infrastructure put in place by protesters to demonstrate safely was attacked by police. More overtly, they targeted not only independent media makers and successfully kept them from documenting these events, but also manipulated the coverage in mainstream media.
(It goes without saying that mainstream media, corporate media, is easier to control. One Associated Press reporter pulled me aside before an event billed as the Poor People’s March to ask if it was true that the anarchists intended to target anyone with a camera today, as his head office had apparently heard from an “anonymous source.” No, it’s not true, I told him. It’s not even logical. Why wouldn’t anarchists want anyone to know they were being arrested, targeted, beaten, and tortured?)
In the end, the charges against the worst of the “self-proclaimed anarchists,” filed under Minnesota’s own USA PATRIOT Act (don’t let the clunky acronym fool you: it still stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) are flimsy at best. As long as that act is still in effect, it seems, even proximity to dissent against the current administration can be defined as terrorism.