Cherie Honkala, national spokesperson for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, “Bushville,” a tent city for poor protesters, and former Minneapolis resident, called the police conduct surrounding the RNC, “the worst” she’d seen in 20 years as a demonstrator.
She recounted the multiple arrests and acts of intimidation that started a week before yesterday’s official opening of the convention, the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and dogs, the surrounding of protesters by 200 heavily armed police and the National Guard, the arrest of Democracy Now! Anchor Amy Goodman and asked rhetorically, “What the hell is going on?”
Honkala recalled police “black ops” at the NY Republican Convention in 2004 which were exposed in a New York Times story and said those same tactics could have been used here.
More than 284 arrests, including 130 felony charges, have occurred. Those jailed include journalists, National Lawyers Guild observers, and health workers. Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said her group is concerned about the health of some of those jailed. Some of those detained, including a hemophiliac, are not getting needed medications and are in solitary lockup, she said.
Honkala said there has been widespread and ongoing intimidation and harassment of the Bushville tent camp, most recently a 2 a.m. visit by police officers who brought loudly barking dogs to intimidate and harass about 40 people encamped at 400 Western Avenue in St. Paul. The group was given permission to stay by a private landowner.
Gross and several other speakers voiced strong suspicions that the vandalism and the attack of a police officer during Monday’s march were actually “black ops” — staged events by police and other law enforcement agencies meant to discourage future protests and demean the work of peace and human rights activists. One group said they had eye-witnesses that claim that the attack on a police officer was orchestrated. Speaking for her group, Gross said she was “absolutely convinced that it [vandalism and attack on an officer] was an action by police.”
Shamako Noble, representing the Hip Hop Congress, appealed to the media covering the convention protests to be allies in getting the word out across the country about the arrests. “This is just an example of the extremes taking place all across the country,” said Noble.
Jess Sundin, a co-organizer of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, said the group’s permit for the march was violated a number of times, including preventing them from starting on time and a detoured route. She called for “the release of everyone arrested.”
Free Press, a national media reform group, issued a statement this morning calling on St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and local law enforcement officials to drop all charges against all journalists arrested while covering protests outside the convention.
“We condemn the arrest and harassment of journalists before and during the Republican National Convention,” said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, in a written statement. “We call on the mayor, district attorney and police chief to rein in the overly aggressive — and even violent — tactics of law enforcement. Arresting and detaining journalists for doing their jobs is a gross violation of free speech and freedom of the press. We call for the immediate release of any journalists being held in the Twin Cities and for all charges to be dropped immediately. Reporting by independent journalists is the only way for the American public to learn the full story, and they must be free to do their jobs without intimidation.”