TOP 9 RNC MYTHS: as compiled in advance of the Heffelfinger/Luger report by Friends of the RNC 8
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MYTH #9: Although most protesters had peaceful intentions,
a few violent radicals ruined it for everyone.
This is law enforcement’s favorite myth to perpetuate. On the other hand, you hear very little of this from protesters who were in the streets, let alone from protest organizers. Everyone in the streets that day knows that the police brought the violence and that it was indiscriminate. Regardless of anyone’s ideas about violence, any sensible person can also understand that if the violence of U.S. and corporate policy (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, neocolonialism, corporate buyouts while people go homeless, etc.) doesn’t justify a broken window, then certainly a broken window doesn’t justify rubber bullets, tasers, teargas, pepper spray, and blunt object trauma.
This myth is also used in an attempt to implode movements for change by turning those who are in disagreement with the U.S. government against each other. If moderate progressives blame radicals for police violence, then no one will hold the police accountable and the movements will undermine themselves and do the FBI’s work for it. Unfortunately for the state, these movements have maintained solidarity and our communities know that the real enemies of the people wear blue.
MYTH #8: protesters wanted to limit Republicans’ free speech.
We have not heard a single protester say they went to the RNC to stop Republicans from physically speaking. Many went to demonstrate against Republican policy, the Bush regime, or the U.S. government as a whole. While some wanted to make it as difficult as possible for the RNC to happen, this was not because of what was being SAID but rather because of what the Republican party was and is planning to DO, has a history of DOING, and DOES routinely in our names, with our tax dollars without our consent. The RNC was given an elevated platform to speak from built and paid for by the people of this country. That is what so many find unacceptable. The only people whose so-called rights to free speech were violated were those who were arrested or detained in preemptive raids, those who were assaulted by police in the streets, and those who continue to be held hostage by the legal system.
All this regarding the “right” to free speech pre-supposes the legitimacy of the state authority that grants and revokes it at its whim. As long as a “right” can be snatched away at the first sign that it may become a threat to the comfort of those in power, the whole concept is irrelevant.
MYTH #7: The anarchists’ only goal was to destroy St. Paul.
We’ve all seen footage of black-clad protesters and heard the police wail about anarchists bent on destruction and mayhem. In these tumultuous times, though, there is no political belief that has a monopoly on rage and discontent.
As far as anarchists go, fairly universal tenant of anarchism is direct action, which essentially boils down to dealing with issues in life yourself–not writing letters or lobbying to have your needs added to a party platform. However this may or may not have played out in St. Paul, it plays out every day of the year at free food give-aways, community spaces, underground libraries, community workshops and collectives of all stripes. That’s why an anarchist and anti-authoritarian organization, the RNC Welcoming Committee, which has been described by Fletcher as a criminal enterprise, held regular joint town-hall meetings attended by both general community members and other protest organizers (allegedly the “good” protesters). The RNC Welcoming Committee also went door-to-door in affected communities and attended neighborhood meetings to better understand the needs of the people of the Twin Cities. This ongoing community involvement was/is seen by many as equal or greater in importance to any single week in St. Paul.
MYTH # 6: Lack of official complaints against law enforcement is evidence they acted appropriately.
Some people believe that trusting the government’s “official” process to accomplish anything beneficial is always a mistake (that’s how we got the RNC here in the first place) and so either let it go or find other means of coming to terms with what happened. This is especially true when the system is in bed with the perpetrator of a violation (i.e., the police). It is extremely difficult to win such cases and often the cost and risk isn’t worth the potential gain. Several mechanisms are in place to punish and deter those who might otherwise speak out against police misconduct. Filing an official report can limit your ability to win a civil lawsuit, and there are also harsh punishments for filing reports against police that the state (the same one that hires them) claims to be false. There is no shortage of examples of police retribution against official complainants, something many communities in the Twin Cities experience on a daily basis.
Furthermore, in the days before and during the RNC, police officers often wore no identifying badges or insignias. For protesters and citizens who suffered from tasers, tear gas, concussion grenades, beatings, arbitrary detention, and other abuses of police authority, there is no way to file a grievance against such an officer.
MYTH #5: Breaking the law invalidates protests. People have the right to speak but shouldn’t interfere with the rights of others.
This is a myth often touted by voices who then elevate organizers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, but this shows complete ignorance of the teachings of these organizers. They both broke the law repeatedly and consistently throughout their lives–that’s why it’s called “civil disobedience.” King and Gandhi both advocated strategic confrontation of the corrupt systems in place, often by illegal means. Even Al Gore recently called for people to commit civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants.
Further, asking anyone not to interfere with the “rights” of others implies at the start that everyone’s rights, status, and privileges are equal and that their tools for actualizing their desires are comparable. The state apparatus that brought the RNC to St. Paul and put the cops and all their less lethal toys in the streets is the same apparatus that decides what the laws and “valid” forms of protest are. But when protests are protesting the system itself, they won’t be able to achieve all their ends only by acting within it. Unlike the RNC, no demonstrators in the streets of St. Paul had the full power of the state behind them. They had the power of the people and the power that they themselves took back from the state. It makes sense, then, that accountability should come to pass through the people, not through the state’s laws.
MYTH #4: The police had to step in to secure the city or it would have been destroyed.
While there was some property destruction in St. Paul, this myth is based on false premises. Compare the RNC to, for example, to the University of Minnesota hockey riots. Not only was the destruction at the U of M more indiscriminate, it also caused an exponentially greater amount of financial damage. But no one claimed that “the inherently violent hockey fans would have destroyed Minneapolis”. The fact is, the police were the gas that ignited the RNC flame. The footage looks like a riot because the POLICE were rioting. No protesters were setting off concussion grenades or filling the streets with teargas and smoke. No one would or should blame a battered spouse for the abuse they receive, even if the perpetrator of that abuse claims the receiver stepped out of line. While this analogy may be uncouth, it is apt. This is the sort of victim blaming that we hear coming from the SPPD and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.
MYTH #3: In all of the RNC raids, police found what they were looking for and revealed evidence of violent criminal intentions.
The warrants that police broke down doors with were, in parts, necessarily vague. They included things like electronic equipment, literature, and other household items like rags and tools. Even the most horrific uses for household items that the State could dream up don’t prove violent intentions. It is important to note that the main items taken from the Convergence Center were public computers and literature; some computers, cell phones and other items belonging to citizens who were neither arrested nor charged in the raid on the Convergence Center have still not been returned.
Bob Fletcher himself said in a post-raid press conference that they had obtained only a fraction what was out there, but if this was true, wouldn’t we have seen a lot more of these items in the streets of St. Paul? No, because most of the items that police claim are evidence of violent criminal intentions are in your kitchen cupboards, on your library shelves, and in your home.
MYTH #2: protesters threw human excrement at law enforcement and delegates.
This is another favorite myth of law enforcement not just in St. Paul but nationwide. It serves to shock the public, paint protesters as filthy, desperate and untouchable, and positions law enforcement as victims of some sort of radical dementia. It was a myth perpetrated in Denver at the 2008 DNC, and in 2004 at the RNC and DNC, and probably goes back much further than that with just as little hard evidence available to prove it.
Setting aside the fact that feces is capable of little damage against the weapons deployed by law enforcement in St. Paul, there is no evidence, save police testimony, of any such occurrence. NOT ONE! Law enforcement saw fit to confiscate every piece of literature from the Convergence Center, but couldn’t manage to bend over and bag a single turd. No one yet has been charged with possession or hurling of feces as a means of assault. There were cameras on every corner with video of every major “incident,” plus thousands of journalists, but still no feces. (And no pee, either!)
MYTH #1: If people are innocent they will be found not guilty and everything will be okay.
There are a lot of things wrong with this myth. First, people in the United States are routinely railroaded by the justice system and determined to be guilty or take a guilty plea because they have fewer resources to defend themselves than the state has to prosecute them. Second, many people who did break the law did so selectively in pursuit of a greater justice. Such people are aware that they could be punished for what they do. This raises the question: why would the people of this country want to lock up or punish their greatest advocates of justice; people who are willing to put their own necks on the line to make the world better for all of us? Everything will not be okay as long as these people are locked up or otherwise restricted by the state.
Thirdly, the court process itself is quite taxing. Many individuals are being forced to spend their life savings and put a drain on their communities in order to raise the tens of thousands of dollars they need to fight their charges. This leads back to why so many people get railroaded. They run out of these resources, which are not only financial. When the people who work daily to make their communities better are locked up in a legal battle, they cannot continue to do the work that they did in their communities, and everyone suffers. Lastly, for all these reasons, harassing anyone who speaks out becomes in itself a mode of stifling speech and participation. It can serve to “chill” the actions of others, no matter how benign, and detracts from public debate.