This weekend, an anti-gay protester handed out bibles at the Pride Festival in Loring Park in Minneapolis. This weekend the G8/G20 leaders met in Toronto, amid protests, police, violence and arrests. The common thread? Free speech.
Pride Festival organizers had tried to get a temporary restraining order keeping Brian Johnson out of the park, because of complaints about his anti-gay message in past years. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim denied the restraining order, on First Amendment grounds.
The court’s task here is to balance these competing interests to the greatest extent possible–to enable all speakers to exercise their constitutional rights–and then to depend on reasonable and law-abiding people to stay within proper limits.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board issued a statement saying, in part:
There are no winners or losers in this case. This case was about clarifying an individual’s first amendment rights in a public park. Mr. Brian Johnson, or anyone, has the right to express themselves in Loring Park during Twin Cities Pride Festival. But no one has the right to disturb the peace or harass attendees.
And that was the end of that. No one was hit. No one was hurt. No one was arrested.
This weekend, at the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto, hundreds of people were arrested, and some were beaten by police. This happened after a short spree of window-breaking and police car-burning by a small but violent sub-group within the much larger group of protesters. According to the New York Times, police allowed the small, violent group to rampage without taking action to stop them – and then police moved in on the larger, nonviolent protest groups.
The Times quoted “Steve Paikin, a prominent Toronto journalist” describing how the police forced him to leave the scene of mass arrests, and how he observed the police attacking a reporter for The Guardian. That reporter, Jesse Rosenfeld, told his story to Democracy Now:
At that point, I was sort of taken to the side, after a bunch of media had gotten through the police line, and an officer walked up to me, looked at my ID and said-my Alternative Media Center press pass, that is-and said, “This isn’t legitimate. You’re under arrest,” at which point I was immediately jumped by two police officers. I had my notepads in my hands. Grabbed my arms, they yanked back. My notepad went flying. I was hit in the stomach by one officer as I was held by two others. As I was going over, I was then hit in the back and went down. After I went down and as I went down, I smacked my leg. I had officers jump on top of me. I was being hit in the back. My face was being pushed to the concrete. All the time I’m saying, “I’m not resisting arrest. I’m a journalist. Why are you beating me?” My leg was lifted up, and my ankle was twisted, from while I was on the ground not resisting. And at that point, after I started saying these things, the police then started saying, “Stop resisting arrest,” as if to try and provide cover for themselves.
Something interesting about when I was jumped, as well, is, just a minute or so after, two other officers had passed by, and they identified me as someone who is, quote-unquote, “a mouthy kid.” Basically, I had run into them at demonstrations previously in the week and basically been asking tough questions on the front of the riot line as they were either clashing with media, which they did quite violently through the week, or beating protesters. And so, they had identified me as someone who was challenging them publicly and on the record. And it was at that point that I was jumped by the other officers, you know, and beaten and arrested.
In the United States, the large political and governmental events that are met with mass protests are now called “national special security events,” and are met with massive police and security mobilization. These are events like the G8/G20 meeting. The Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008 was a “national special security event.”
Now Minneapolis is looking for its own “national special security event.” The city is bidding on the 2010 Democratic National Convention. Some organizers are already opposing the bid.
The City of Minneapolis has put in a bid to get the 2012 Democratic National Convention. If this sounds like a horrible idea to you, come to the second meeting of folks trying to lose the bid and spare our city the pain of another convention.
The pain comes in no small part from the nature of “national special security events.” Canadian journalist Naomi Klein analyzed what happened in Toronto. She talked about the enormous price tag for policing the G8/G20 meeting, saying that police “are feeling really cornered and feeling like they have to justify [the price tag] which is completely unjustifiable.” She, too, described the police failing to act during the initial violence on Saturday:
Now, while that was happening, media outlets were getting press statements. And I’ll just read you one. This is from the Toronto Police Department: “All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what’s happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalized, people are getting beat up, and [so] the so-called ‘intimidating’ police presence is essential to restoring order.” …
And so, that has played itself out in two ways: one, by allowing what happened on Saturday to happen with almost no intervention; and then—that was stage one—and stage two was using that inaction as justification for scooping up hundreds of other activists, beating up journalists, just going on a rampage.
The Canadian branch of Amnesty International estimated security costs for the weekend meetings of rich nations’ finance ministers at more than a billion dollars, which included the presence in the city of 20,000 police officers. Amnesty International-Canada condemned both the police actions and the vandalism:
In connection with the G20 leaders summit, the heavy police and security presence that has permeated the city for several days, as well as acts of vandalism and other violence by numbers of individuals, have contributed to an atmosphere of apprehension and fearfulness …
At a time when the public should be encouraged to actively engage in debate and discussion about pressing global issues, the security measures that were put in place in Toronto in the lead up to the G20 Summit held in the city instead narrowed the space for civic expression and cast a chill over citizen participation in public discourse.
Judge Tunheim’s ruling and the peaceful response to the bible-wielding activist in Loring Park on Sunday show one way of dealing with protest and opposing viewpoints in the streets. “National special security events” show another.