Cameras, camcorders, cell phones, computer, notebooks – even clothes and a sleeping bag – were confiscated by Minneapolis police in the name of Homeland Security Monday night, according to a trio of young artist-journalists in town to report on the RNC.
Anita Brathwaite, age 20, had just arrived on the bus from Chicago late on August 25, ready to report on the RNC. Vlad Tichberg and Olivia Katz, fellow members of New York’s Glass Bead Collective had arrived earlier. They met her at the bus station, and the trio headed back to the home in Northeast Minneapolis where they planned to stay while reporting on the convention. According to their attorney, Bruce Nestor, they boarded the 17B bus, getting off at Washington and 27th Avenue, and walking the final two and one-half blocks at about 1:30 a.m. on August 26.
For additional reporting on police harassment related to the RNC, see Pre-RNC homeland insecurity: Police abuses of power ramping up as convention nears from the Minnesota Independent.
Then two Minneapolis squad cars stopped them. In the initial conversation, Brathwaite said, the officers asked them about robberies in the neighborhood. Then they were ordered to put their hands on the hood of the squad car and officers began searching them. When they asked if they were under arrest, the officers said no. They asked if they were free to go – no, again. At some point, a white SUV from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s department pulled up, but no one got out of that vehicle.
“We kept saying we do not consent to any search,” Brathwaite said, but the officers searched their belongings anyway. The three young people were questioned separately, photographed, and released, but police refused to return their belongings. They even took the backpack and sleeping bag that held all of Brathwaite’s clothing and personal belongings for the week ahead.
“To add insult to injury,” Tichberg said, “they refused to give us a receipt for our belongings. This is completely outside what I would call a law and order society.”
Attorney Bruce Nestor says that he was informed that police are now seeking a search warrant to search the items for evidence of trespassing in a railroad yard, a misdemeanor offense. In his fifteen years of practicing law, Nestor said, he has never seen confiscation of belongings under similar circumstances for investigation of a misdemeanor. The trio insist never went into the railroad yard, and that video from the squad cars will show that they did not.
The one-line police report says, “S1, S2 and S3 were observed walking out of the railroad yard at 26th AV and 6TH ST NE.” In a section labeled “Incident Details,” the report lists two offenses. Trespassing is a violation of 385.380. The other offense is called “Homeland Security Offense,” but no statute or description is given. None of the three have been charged with any offense at press time.
Tichberg said he has no idea why the police initially targeted them, though police in St. Paul observed their visit to the RNC Welcoming Committee’s Convergence Center on Monday afternoon.
The warrantless search and seizure of property, he said, is a violation of their constitutional rights. Seizure of a journalist’s camera, notes, cell phone and computer means that police can obtain all of the phone numbers, names of contacts, schedules of demonstrations that they planned to report on, and notes for their work.
Other recent Homeland Security action in Twin Cities
Minnesota Public Radio reporter Tim Nelson wrote about his own experience of being stopped by private security guards on West Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul and ordered to show identification. He refused, but reports that he has heard of at least two other incidents where St. Paul police asked for identification from photographers, citing Homeland Security concerns. One, who asked Nelson to identify him only by a pseudonym because of concern for his clients’ privacy, told Nelson:
“I’ve been taking photos for 45 years and this is the first time this has ever happened to me,” Flâneur says of his experience near Hamm Plaza “I have taken pictures of demonstrations in front of the White House and this hasn’t happened to me. I have taken pictures in Communist East Germany and this hasn’t happened to me. Only in St. Paul.”
Back in Minneapolis, Nelson reports that a “former journalist in North Minneapolis” had a similar run-in with police on Monday night (August 25):
He said they handcuffed him, searched his bag and camera referred to him as a “terrorist.” Some plainclothes officers eventually showed up and straightened things out. There’s a lot more to his account, and I called and emailed the Minneapolis police to inquire – and try to verify – the incident, but they haven’t gotten back to me.
Anyway, the former journalist says that he was released after about an hour. He said in an email that he was “warned to stay away from all of the RNC activities. The investigators explained to me that nothing would happen to me unless one of the sites I photographed was compromised, or I was detained again for anything related to the RNC.”