Thursday, September 06, 2007

Many without cause

This letter was in the Strib yesterday:

Two separate articles in the Aug. 30 Star Tribune refer to the fact that more than 1,800 people were arrested by New York City police during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Yet both neglect to mention that almost 90 percent of the charges were dropped without convictions, that multiple cases were dismissed when video footage contradicted sworn police testimony and that New York City has paid substantial damages to hundreds of persons arrested without probable cause.

Relying on anecdotes and unidentified "published reports," Katherine Kersten raises the specter of violent anarchists in Seattle in 1999. In fact, a federal court jury recently awarded more than $1 million in damages to persons arrested in Seattle without probable cause -- on top of almost $800,000 in damages already paid by that city to victims of police abuse during the 1999 protests.

The real threat to our political system arises from the use of police power to suppress dissent and compliant media that heighten public fear by portraying protesters as deviants and disrupters. Minneapolis and St. Paul need to focus less on suppressing dissent through oppressive security measures and more on avoiding unlawful police surveillance, arrests and use of force.


Then today, Katie writes another screed about protest surrounding the upcoming Republican National Convention titled Last week was a preview of next year's street battles:

Last Friday, I inadvertently found myself in the midst of the opening salvo of a battle to turn the Twin Cities upside down next year.

I was driving home at rush hour from downtown Minneapolis, when several hundred bicyclists blocked the street leading to Interstate 394.

My fellow motorists and I sat obligingly for several minutes, missing green light after green light. Finally, folks began angrily honking their horns. If two police cars hadn't moved the riders along, people might have leaped from their cars to take on the bicyclists themselves. [italics are Spot's]

Several hundred? Katie, the article in your own newspaper said 200. And it's a good thing the cops came along and protected the bicyclists from all the enraged porkers headed for the 'burbs! That could have really been ugly!

The police have not had, as a general proposition, trouble with Critical Mass, the "sponsor" of the ride last Friday:

Police said they have had little trouble with recent rallies staged by Critical Mass, a loosely organized group that opposes society's heavy use of motor vehicles.

"We've never had a problem with Critical Mass, the rally," she said. "We agree with them that we need to lessen our dependence on the automobile. Apparently, they had some infiltrators or outsiders who joined the rally tonight. And these outsiders were trying to provoke the officers."

Spot wrote on Monday that people should be careful of the influence of agents provocateurs in the months leading up to the RNC, and to have a little empathy with the police. But Spot does not agree with Katie that last Friday's dust-up means we're being duped:

In such a situation [disorder surrounding a convention], our first impulse is Minnesota Nice. Twin Cities lawyers are signing up in droves to aid what they may naively view as old-fashioned protesters. St. Paul is reportedly exploring the possibility of helping protesters find campgrounds.

But as you can see from Bruce Nestor's letter, it is hardly naive to believe that some people are going to be wrongfully arrested.

Katie also quotes Annette Meeks, yes, that Annette Meeks, who sounds like the Chamber of Commerce:

"If we have mayhem, the good will that accompanies a well-presented convention will be instantly erased by acts of domestic terrorism," Meeks warned.

It may come as a surprise to you, Katie, although probably not, that many of us find the presence and inconvenience of the 2008 RNC to be more of an annoyance than those exercising their rights of speech and assembly. The convention will be one of the most important political events of next year, and it is ludicrous to think, as you apparently do, that it should be held without that pestiferous First Amendment.

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