The battle in St Paul – eyewitness account

I’m reposting this from a newslist I belong to. It’s grim reading.

Hi everyone,

I thought you would be interested in reading this first-person account of the heavy-handed response to activism at the RNC this week.  This is from Colleen Mihal, currently a Ph.D. student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado-Boulder:

_____________________________

Dear Friends,

When you wake up this morning and read the headlines about McCain’s speech, the latest horserace tally, and political predictions, I want you to be aware of events you may not read about, events that illuminate the real state of our democracy, events that brought me to tears (and it wasn’t just from the gas).  I want to tell you about battle that raged on the streets of St. Paul- A battle waged by the police, backed, funded, and organized by the Department of Homeland Security, a battle against peaceful protesters, war veterans, concerned citizens, and journalists.

I have been working with a documentary film team in St. Paul led by Joan Sekler and based out of The Uptake, a film collective with an office right outside the exclusion zone by the Excel Center. Around 4:00pm I left the office with two other filmmakers to film a permitted peace rally and march at the state capitol.  The speakers began and everyone was just lounging in the park.  An undercover cop was identified by protesters wearing all black and a yellow keffiyeh over his face.  He was heard by one of my fellow filmmakers saying, “busted” into his scarf.  He walked out of the park as protesters marched around him chanting, “This is what an undercover looks like.”  He feel behind police lines and disappeared.  After a few speakers went on, it became obvious that police in riot gear were surrounding us.  Unfortunately, this was not unusual for our week in St. Paul.

I ran over to film a golf cart full of police rushing onto the grass. The cop in the cart yelled into a megaphone, “YOUR PERMIT TO BE IN THE PARK ENDS AT 5:00PM! YOU HAVE NINE MINUTES TO DISPERSE! YOU MUST VACATE THE PARK!” Almost instantaneously people started to run out of the park in fear and police in gas masks started to move in.  The protesters caught the police off guard as they headed towards the bridge into St. Paul, not the direction for the permitted march, but the path for previous marches.  None of the protesters I spoke with were aware of the terms of the permit before the police disrupted the rally. The protesters did not make it to the bridge at Cedar and 12th St, as they were cut-off by hundreds of police in full riot gear. This was the site of a standoff that lasted for hours. Many protesters were arrested for sitting peacefully in the street.  During this confrontation a journalist from The Uptake was detained.

The police were ordering us to travel west, the north (State Capitol building) and east routes were totally blockaded.  Protesters and the media started moving west and almost made it over the second bridge at John Ireland Blvd., but failed.  Not only independent media, but also mainstream media were trapped outside of the city.  The mainstream media found themselves in the shoes of independent media.  There was a long confrontation again on the John Ireland bridge as protesters sat peacefully in the street and sang. One protesters knelt in front of the police line with a flower in his hands. The police eventually issued dispersal orders. As we dispersed, a few more people were arrested. We went back to the bridge at Cedar St. More arrests. Police broke the line and dipped out into the crowd to grab and arrest protest leadership. The leaders had been simply standing around talking.  As the cops dipped in, I was on a fence over I-94. Before I knew what was happening,  a cop drew a grenade gun and ordered me to move. My backpack got stuck on the fence. Luckily, he waited for me. Everything happened so fast, no one caught it on film.

It started to get dark and we headed back to John Ireland bridge. By the time I got there the police were in full force, as before. The streets were barricaded with snowplows.  The police attempted to tell us that no one, including media, were allowed on the bridge.  They claimed there was a bomb on the bridge.  No bomb squad ever arrived.  No suspicious package was ever identified.  All the pathways and bridges into the city were blocked. No one could get in, even those with official RNC press credentials or those trying to get to work.

Further west I saw police vans flying and people running.  The next bridge was also barricaded, the Marion St. Bridge.  The only way to go was northwest into a neighborhood.  Sounds of explosions rocked the night air.  I headed in that direction as I received a twitter, “THE PRESS ARE NO LONGER SAFE!”  Other texts rolled in reading, “Fox News gassed” and “KARE 11 reporter arrested.”  As the explosions grew louder, I saw bluish-purple gas rising from behind a building. I ran into the Sears parking lot where the action was.  Police were everywhere. It was impossible to know where to go or where to go. There were small packs of them and the National Guard everywhere I turned.

Somehow I feel in with a pack of riot police on a mission. I filmed as few of the grabbed a young girl by her shirt as she tried to run away from the violent scene.  She kept running and they chased her in a circle around me.  One cop threw her on the ground with his club and struck her. Next he pepper sprayed her point blank in the face. She got up and they started pushing her. She tried to run, now blinded. Once again they pushed her to the ground.  She was crying and had lost her shoe.  They pepper sprayed her again.  She got up and ran. They just let her go.  I helped her wash her face and find a medic.

Next I filmed the back of a row of police shooting what sounded like rubber bullets.  The police quickly turned and screamed, “GET THE MEDIA OUT OF HERE! GET THE MEDIA OUT OF HERE!”  I turn and ran. Some of the cavalier corporate journalists shouted back, “We are media! Who are you targeting? We pose no threat to you!” I decided it was time to leave the situation.  As I was leaving I saw a woman who looked like she was in her 70s. She had had been shot by a concussion grenade. She wasn’t part of the march; she had been shopping at Sears.

Before I left I saw police had some people surrounded. They were sitting on the ground with peace signs raised. By this time it was really dark and we couldn’t film.  Some media tried to turn on lights and the police wouldn’t let them. Anytime someone turned on a light the police pointed the pepper spray at her.

I left with the film crew because our batteries were out and it was dark .We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and ended up getting a ride back into the city from the owner.  She dropped us off on the other side of the city: the contrast was surreal. On the other side of the city Republicans partied with American flags, high heels, and festive music. We had entered another world. The police were not wearing gas masks or riot gear! They were wearing polo shirts! We passed a man complete with buttons, credentials, and a white, plastic hat, he was lighting a cigar with his wife next to him in a red sequin blazer happily buying a McCain-Palin shirt.  Here you would be hard pressed to find someone that was not white or wealthy.

Is this what the Republicans mean by “Country First?”  I ask then, what country?  Whose country?  Nationalism is undemocratic and terroristic at home, as it is abroad.  Let this serve as a warning, a warning of the fascist state they are building on our soil, not to mention what they hope to do throughout the world.  I truly believe that the police never intended to let the protesters march to their Freedom Cage inside the city. I believe their intention was to completely lock dissent (what McCain referred to in his nomination speech as “static”) out of the city- at all costs.  And to that I say, Mission Accomplished.  The north side of the city was a total war zone. And is characteristic of some wars, one side was not armed.  This war was waged against war veterans, journalists and citizens so that the Republican convention could go merrily on without the Republicans having to confront those outraged and displaced by their delegation of power.  For more info and video, please visit independent media sites such as http://theuptake.org/ and http://twincities.indymedia.org/

Off to bed!

Colleen Mihal

PhD Student

University of Colorado

____________________________

And this followup from Colleen:

Here is video from the local paper- one of the main paper from the Twin Cities. This is a fantastic video. You can see that people are trying to leave peacefully but don’t know where to go. The explosions, fires, and shots are all initiated by the police. One cop points a red can of pepper spray at a someone in a bright green hat. The people in the green hats are legal observers, they aren’t even protesters. They are there merely to document the events of police action.

Of note, the article says the Pioneer Press videographer was arrested after this took place. Targeting journalists, media, and reporters!!!! Shame!

http://www.twincities.com/ci_10385092

6 Responses to The battle in St Paul – eyewitness account

  1. Lita says:

    This is indeed grim. Nationalism at its finest.

  2. Karen says:

    For more firsthand accounts, go to this link at Firedoglake: http://tinyurl.com/6fr356

    I was there, I saw the aftermath of the worst case described.

  3. Medusa says:

    Hmmm, land of the free??

    Disgraceful bullying.

  4. Lita says:

    Thanks Karen, I followed your link.

    The more I read, the more it reminded me of Naomi Wolf’s 10 steps to creating a fascist state. It’s both scary and sad, it’s even more alarming to think how this may end.

  5. Anarchists need bashing says:

    I drove from New Jersey to see this freak show and I was not disappointed.

    Funny – I walked past the armed police and they called me “Sir”, and smiled when I nodded at them.

    Liberals just need to know their limitations. One cannot riot “peacefully” or smash windows without reprocussions.

    The Police provided that and everwhere I saw some cretin sprawled out on the street or bawling because they were pepper sprayed, well, it just made my day…

  6. […] The battle in St Paul – eyewitness accountWe ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and ended up getting a ride back into the city from the owner. She dropped us off on the other side of the city: the contrast was surreal. On the other side of the city Republicans partied with American … […]

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