On Thursday, the Community RNC Arrestee Support Structure (CRASS) held a press conference at the state capitol echoing Saint Paul Police Chief John Harrington and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s request for assistance in locating victims and suspects of RNC-related violence.
“Throughout the RNC,” CRASS’s press release stated, “unidentified individuals terrorized hundreds of activists, journalists, medics, legal observers and bystanders. The perpetrators of these brutal assaults were heavily armed, masked and generally dressed in black.”
Referring to the Saint Paul Police officers dressed in riot gear during the RNC, members of CRASS called the behavior of these officers unacceptable, and said the perpetrators should go to court. They also called for the release of the 6,000 hours of RNC surveillance camera video footage that the City of St. Paul has refused to release in response to requests under the MN Data Practices Act.
Several individuals shared their personal stories at the press conference. Vernon Rodrigues, from California, described his experience on September 1. “I was unjustly pepper sprayed and arrested,” Rodrigues stated. “I couldn’t feel my hands” Rodrigues said he was forced to lie on the ground, and later learned that the police had put on the handcuffs backwards. Rodrigues claimed that he was only fed once in the three days he was in jail, and that after he was released, he was harassed by police, had his phone tapped, and was forced to move to Saint Paul indefinitely.
Mick Kelly was the second speaker. Kelly, from Minneapolis, was one of the organizers of the Sept 1 anti-war march, and carried the lead banner in the September 4 protest. He described police pulling the banner out of his hand and shooting him with rubber bullets, suffering a Frisbee size bruise. “We have a right to voice our opinions,” Kelly said. He insisted that Saint Paul drop all of the RNC related charges.
Jason Johnson, from Iowa, described being grabbed by a mounted police officer. “I was shot twice by taser guns,” Johnson said. “It felt like my entire body started on fire, and then the feeling rushed into my head.” He asked the audience to visit the website www.stoptasers.org. Then he said: “I’m here to request release of the video tapes. It’s just and that’s what needs to happen.”
Michelle Gross, from Communities United Against Police Brutality spoke next, and denounced the “thousand of acts of brutality, false arrests, and mass arrests” committed by the Saint Paul police. She said that CUAPB filed a data practice request, but has not received any footage yet. “The city is to respond in a timely manner,” Gross said, and stated that her organization is filing a formal complaint. Gross also demanded dropping charges of all people arrested during the RNC, and demanded that brutal police be prosecuted.
Bill Drebenstedt, of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, said “The RNC war machine is defended by thugs dressed in black.” Drebenstedt called Bob Fletcher a corrupt and dishonest official, and that he and Chief Harrington “need to be brought up on criminal trial… they need to be removed from their positions.”
Rebecca Ford spoke as well, and said that there was no evidence of or accounts by civilians or legal observers or press of feces being thrown at police officers, despite Bob Fletcher’s claim that there was. “If there is evidence [of that]”, Ford said, “It should be the video footage.” Ford and Kristin Herbeck also called for the release of the surveillance footage, and that all criminal charges be dropped. In a post-conference interview, Ford said that despite all the money that went toward buying new weapons and uniforms for the RNC, very little money went to the court system and toward the dispersal of evidence. “They need to plan ahead,” Ford said. “If they’re going to give money to police, they needed to have the resources to deal with all these false arrests.”
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.