For Karolyn Kirschgesler of St. Paul’s Rivercentre Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Republican National Convention was, with the exception of a few problems experienced by downtown businesses unfortunate enough to be located outside the security perimeter around the Xcel Center, a nearly unqualified success. It was, she testified Tuesday night, a “defining moment” – in a good way – for the city, an event less important for what happened the first week of September than as a boost to “business opportunities in the future.”
“St. Paul received some 31,000 mentions in the press,” she declared. “Almost all of them favorable.”
But her sentiments were not shared by the more than two dozen other speakers who testified nor for the crowd of more than 250 who filled the St. Paul City Council Chambers to overflowing for a town hall meeting called by 2nd Ward Councilmember Dave Thune to hear citizen reactions to the convention.
Another St. Paul business person, Sara Remke, co-owner of the Black Dog Café, spoke of how the presence of some 3700 law enforcement personnel made it difficult for her even to commute from her home near the foot of the High Bridge to Lowertown where the café is located and how the café’s annual Labor Day Weekend Block Party was severely hampered by the last minute police decision to pull the café’s permit for Monday, September 1.
In addition to business people, Thune and 4th Ward Councilmember Russ Stark heard from members of the media, legal advocates, doctors, protestors and city residents during the course of the three hour meeting.
Nancy Doyle, of the Twin Cities Media Alliance (the parent organization of the Twin Cities Daily Planet), said the arrest of almost 50 journalists was a clear sign that police were targeting the press. “We don’t want St. Paul to become Beijing on the Mississippi,” she said. To avoid that, she said, “We need a guarantee that nothing like this will happen again.”
Her concerns were echoed by Michael Bucsko, a Pioneer Press employee and representative of the Newspaper Guild, who said that “suppression [of the press] seemed to be an objective” of police behavior.
And it wasn’t just journalists who were targeted, according to Dr. Laurie Radovsky, a family practice doctor whose daughter persuaded her to volunteer during the RNC. In addition to examining dozens of protestors with skin, eye, and blunt force injuries caused by tear-gas, pepper-spray, flash grenades and some form of projectile similar to the rubber bullets that police deny having used, she said that there “appeared to be targeted arrests of street medics.”
This was a particularly troublesome phenomenon, she said, since medics had been trained to provide First-Aid for precisely the kinds of injuries inflicted by the police. She also examined people who’d been held in Ramsey County lockup and found injuries consistent with their claims that they had been beaten and tasered while in custody.
Bruce Nestor, head of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, drew some of the loudest applause when he called for a full-blown investigation by the City Council, with powers to compel testimony, of police misconduct. Many in the crowd responded by demanding a Grand Jury investigation.
The meeting also heard from Mike Whelan, whose house was raided the weekend before the RNC by a couple of dozen police officers carrying assault weapons; Whelan was playing host to journalists with I-Witness News, a group that specializes in videotaping police actions.
“It just blows my mind,” Whelan declared. “A police state in St. Paul!”
Sara Coffee, a legal advocate associated with the group, played a video of the raid in which police kicked in the doors of Whelan’s house, claiming that they were looking for materials to produce bombs, even though they had no search warrant and later released everyone detained without charge. The video was one of several aired during the hearing.
Dropping charges was another theme of the night, with demands by speaker after speaker that those now accused of conspiracy to riot in the furtherance of terrorism be cleared.
Although nothing has been scheduled yet, Thune said that, if there was sufficient interest, another hearing would be held in the near future to allow those unable to speak at this meeting to have their views heard. Given the size and response of the crowd, another hearing is highly likely.
Whether it will be attended by Mayor Chris Coleman, who was on vacation, or other members of the City Council, is anybody’s guess.