I find it a tad ironic that three settlements in favor of RNC 8 protestors came about in the same time frame that the United States government renewed the Patriot Act, which continues the status quo of limiting civil liberties of people who dare to question the powers that be.
I covered the 2008 Republican National Convention just as I was starting to think of myself as a journalist. Getting arrested kind of solidified the deal for me. The experience was eye-opening about the extent of law enforcement and security lining the streets during every march. The raids prior to the convention, the journalists, legal observers and other law-abiding citizens getting arrested right and left indicated to me that this was not a situation where free speech was tolerated.
As an arrestee myself, I felt a bit vindicated by the settlements, though they didn’t include injunctive relief, preventing law enforcement from behaving in the same way in the future. I should note that these people are not my friends; I do not belong to their political groups nor do I necessarily agree with their political beliefs. I simply believe that they have a right to those political beliefs.
I know the argument: oh well, what about the people that were breaking windows and making bombs? I got an email about just today repeating those arguments. Well, I never made any bombs, and neither did any of the other journalists who got arrested, or the legal observers or any of the peaceful protesters who got arrested.
And if you look at this week’s settlements, they were cases that ended with the protesters receiving money because they were not at fault when their free speech was violated. In one case, their home was raided for a mysterious box that was thought to contain guns: in fact, it contained vegan pamphlets. In another case, Mick Kelly was shot at for simply participating in a protest, and in the third case, the protesters had all their literature seized—literature that they had planned on distributing during the RNC . If we want to live in a free society, we need to make it permissible to assemble in protest, and to speak and write freely about political beliefs.
Sadly, the settlements are most likely being paid for by insurance money. The city of St. Paul and other law enforcement agencies knew in advance that there would be lawsuits because of their actions during the RNC, and took out insurance as a precaution. What this says to me is that despite the settlements, there is no indication that during the next presidential election, the same kind of squashing of free speech won’t happen again.
After all, Congress just renewed, and the president signed the extension of the Patriot Act, which allows for wiretapping, spying on library, bookstore and business records, and surveillance of suspects who aren’t necessarily tied to a recognized terrorist group. While I understand the need for security, I’m concerned about the scapegoating that seems to be the norm against groups that are targeted just because their political beliefs fall left of center.
It makes me believe that currently, freedom of speech is in fact an endangered species, and we must, as a society, be watchful of any time these pillars of our free country become threatened.