Bye, Bye To Freedoms Of Protest And The Press

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Paul before and during the Republican
National Convention. Prior to the convention,
the St. Paul police and federal agents
raided locations in which journalists were
making preparations to cover the planned
demonstrations. One of the groups raided
was I-Witness video, an independent
media group that uses video to protect civil and human
rights. After the 2004 Republican National Convention in
New York, videos shot by I-Witness Video were used to get
charges dismissed against about 400 people who had been
falsely accused by the NYPD.
Obviously, the authorities did not want this to happen
again. During the 2008 Republican Convention, over forty
journalists were arrested in the streets as they tried to cover
the demonstrations and the behavior of the police. Among
the protestors were Amy Goodman and two staff members
of her Democracy Now team. Initially, the two staffers were
charged with the felony of inciting to riot. Amy, who left
the convention hall when she heard of the arrests of the
other two, was charged with a misdemeanor when she tried
to get the police to release the two staff members.
The felony charges were first reduced to misdemeanors,
and then on Friday, September 19, the city of St. Paul
announced that all charges against the arrested journalists
were being dropped. This was after over 62,000 people
signed a petition drawn up by Freepress to drop the
charges. It was also after the London office of Amnesty
International called attention to the fact that “some of the
police actions appear to have breached United Nations
(U.N.) standards on the use of force by law enforcement
officials,” calling for an investigation of police actions
against both demonstrators and journalists.
The repressive force demonstrated at the 2008 Republican
Convention is the latest instance of a progressively escalating
use of force to suppress demonstrations of opposition
to major economic and political institutions. I am convinced
that it began in 1999 with the demonstrations by a
variety of groups, including organized labor, against the
World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. There
the police used excessive force, but the establishment
media, when it reported what happened in the streets at all,
tended to leave the impression that violent elements among
the protestors were responsible for all the violence. This was
an important impetus for the foundation of an independent
media network, of which the Urbana-Champaign Independent
Media Center (UCIMC) is an integral part.
The IMC movement is an international one. When the G8
Summit (the wealthy and more powerful nations) took place
in Genoa, Italy in 2001, there was an IMC in place in that city.
Journalists and people who went to Genoa to demonstrate
against the G8 were in the IMC’s locale when the Italian police
and security forces broke in and violently attacked them.
In 2002, the World Economic Forum was held in New
York City. Once again there were demonstrations. The
police and other security people had managed to infiltrate
the organizers and use the tactic of “proactive” arrests, i.e.,
arresting people who had not yet done anything illegal, to
assure that they would not. This is, perhaps, an apt analogy
to the doctrine of “preemptive war” that George W. Bush
would introduce in the international arena a year later.
The following year, the 2003 Free Trade of the Americas
(FTAA) meeting Miami in was a turning point in the organization
of repressive responses to demonstrations against the
meetings of economic and political elites. First, the amount
of money spent, and the number of participants in the effort,
were massive. There were about 2,500 armed officers.
Armored personnel carriers were introduced. $8.5 million
dollars for the effort came from anti-terror federal funds from
an appropriation bill passed by Congress to rebuild Iraq!
In other words, the mission was no longer demonstration
or crowd control, or dealing with civil disobedience; it
was now part of the war against terrorism. So, when Amy
Goodman asked the St. Paul police chief how journalists are
to cover demonstrations or protests without getting arrested,
is it a surprise that he would answer “you would have to
be embedded with the police?” This is, in fact, how it began
with the U.S. invasion of Panama and exists now in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Some of us remember that the rationale offered
for embedding at that time was that it was to protect the
journalists from the enemy. So are the police now seeking to
protect the journalists from the nasty demonstrators?
There was heavy AFL-CIO presence at those Miami
demonstrations. The organization had rented an
amphitheater in which it held a counter-rally to the FTAA
meetings. It also wanted to deliver its objections to the
“free trade” being promoted by the FTAA to the FTAA. In
both instances, the repressive forces were an obstruction.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent a protest letter to
Attorney General John Ashcroft (see sidebar). In it he
called for a federal investigation of civil rights violations
and for the resignation of Miami Police Chief John Timoney,
who had also been a leader of the forces in New York
and Philadelphia, and who was the architect of this new
militarized approach which casts people who demonstrate
opposition as potential or real terrorists.
This coincided, and not just incidentally, with a new
strategy being developed at the federal level. That is, the
Department of Homeland Security’s adoption of a “fusion”
approach, i.e., using money allocated by the Congress to
fight terrorism for the creation of centers of data intelligence
and communication linking state, local, and federal
law enforcement departments, as well as private intelligence
and security contractors, to deal with “all crimes and
hazards.” These centers are now spread all across the country
and appear to be an integral part of the repressive apparatus
that confronts dissident demonstrations.
Thus, it was not surprising that the following year,
2004, the repressive force that confronted demonstrators
at the Republican National Convention in New York was
just as forceful as that faced by the FTAA protestors in
Miami. A record number of arrests were made, over 1800,
but 90% of the charges were dropped, indicating how
baseless they were. It was after those arrests that the videos
shot by the I-Witness project were used to prove the falsity
of the charges in 400 of the cases. This undoubtedly is
why this year the federal and city security forces raided IWitness
Video before they could film the police responses
to the demonstrations at the Republican Convention in St.
Paul, and why over 40 journalists who indeed tried to
cover those demonstrations were arrested.
It is, of course, good that there was such an immense
protest across the United States and abroad of the arrest of
journalists, and good that the charges were dropped. But
the repressive apparatus of the capitalist, free-trading state
has had its way. It showed that it is willing to beat those
who demonstrate opposition to the policies of
political/economic elites off of the streets, to levy false criminal
charges against them, to use violence against them, and
to arrest journalists who try to expose their actions to the
public. By linking the response to political demonstrations
with the war on terror, and by using violence and trumpedup
criminal charges against peaceful demonstrators, it is
creating a climate of fear and tension to discourage people
from exercising their constitutional and human rights.
The U.S. government, working with private corporations,
has not hesitated to violently overthrow foreign governments
elected by the will of the people and to participate
in the installation of brutally repressive regimes that
better respected the interests of U.S. political and economic
elites, (e.g., in Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Chile, 1973).
What we now see clearly is these elites, including both government
agents and private surveillance and security contractors,
using violence justified by a perpetual “war on terror”
to strip U.S. citizens and workers of their rights as well.
This needs to be clearly exposed and stopped.
To see a video of the armed raid on their house, just google
“Hyperborea: Police Raid and Detainment of I-Witness”.

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