As the Republican National Convention draws closer, fears of police overreach are already being realized. In just the past four days, a number of incidents have raised the suspicions of Twin Cities civil libertarians.
On Saturday evening, six people were detained in downtown St. Paul. The group was allegedly photographed, patted down and had its belongings searched without permission. They also said they were asked if they were “militant protesters or anarchists.”
“We were told that we were being made an example of and that we should go and tell our friends that they will meet the same reaction if they’re seen anywhere near the location of the St. Paul Police Department Headquarters,” said one of those detained by police.
Monday evening, a former journalist taking pictures on Minneapolis’ North Side was handcuffed after photographing police at the Special Operations Division offices, according to MPR’s Tim Nelson. The former journalist said 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.”
But the most egregious example of pre-RNC police abuses occurred Tuesday morning in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhood.
Three independent journalists from New York City were detained near a bus stop at 27th and Washington St. NE and their reporter’s notes, cameras and computers confiscated. The Minneapolis Police Department initially told the trio that they were stopped because police were investigating several car break-ins in the area. By the end of the detention, the police said “homeland security” concerns and trespassing in a rail yard were the reason they were stopped.
Vlad Teichberg, Olivia Katz and Anita Braithwaite are from the New York-based Glass Bead Collective. They traveled to the Twin Cities to attend the convention and document interactions between protesters and police.
They insist they did not go to any rail yards and have witnesses who saw them on the No. 17 bus line.
“We felt like we’d been mugged by the police,” Teichberg said Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the detention, police searched the trio’s belongings without their permission and confiscated the equipment without providing them with a receipt of what was taken.
They even confiscated Braithwaite’s clothing and money.
“The police refused to even give us a receipt,” said Teichberg. “We do not know if we can get our equipment back, because as far as we know they are not even acknowledging it is in their possession.”
The trio’s lawyers say that MPD has indicated they want a search warrant to view the contents of the computer and cameras.
“What they took away was our ability to report,” said Teichberg. “What kind of homeland security do you have when police can come and take away your right to exercise your constitutional rights?”
Bruce Nestor of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said they want to see the squad car video of the detention, and added that the shifting story told by police raises questions. “We are putting on public notice to the Minneapolis Police Department that those squad car videos need to be preserved in unedited form.
“This is absolutely outrageous behavior by the Police Department towards individuals who are engaged in protected First Amendment activity and have a record of exposing police misconduct,” said Nestor.
The Glass Bead Collective’s video has been used in court to demonstrate police actions at protests.
Do these incidents raise the possibility that authorities are using the RNC as an excuse to overstep constitutional rights?
“Arrogance doesn’t need an excuse,” said St. Paul attorney Ted Dooley. “These types of incidents happen frequently. The difference now is that people are watching them, witnessing and giving testimony.”
Dooley also said that these actions aren’t about intimidation. “It’s a straight out challenge. It’s not really a coincidence that they went after someone who had a history of exposing just this kind of behavior by the police,” he said. “It just seemed a little bit planned.”
Indeed, residents of the Northeast neighborhood where the incident occurred, as well as National Lawyers Guild members stopping by Tuesday, said it appeared that undercover surveillance has been occurring there this afternoon.
“It’s very ominous,” said Dooley. “The attack on these three was outrageous. One of them from New York said, ‘The police in New York can be assholes, but even there, they don’t just walk up and take stuff.’ It’s dumbfounding.”