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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cops clamp down at GOP Convention; Palin family values

As far as the size of demonstrations, the 2008 Republican National Convention was hardly exceptional. Yet eight hundred people were arrested during the course of last week's event, which ended last Thursday. In terms of police tactics, St. Paul has distinguished itself by arresting and detaining journalists.

Typical of bland, dumber down news, absent from the media narrative is any substantive inquiry into the protests outside the--mostly sanitized--interior of the Xcel center, where the Convention was held. I say mostly sanitized because two protestors did interrupt John McCain's acceptance speech which came at the end of the event.

Last year, I'd read that a Secret Service manual advocates the use of the chant "USA, USA, USA" by 'rally squads' in chanting down these demonstrators, should they appear at a Presidential event. A Salon article cites the 'Presidential Advance Manual': "If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drawn out protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!)."

The choice of police tactics was controversial. Before the Convention had begun, packs of heavily armed police, aided by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, targetted groups who'd set up protest headquarters in the area. The terrorism moniker has been slapped on these organizations, which shows you how quick authorities are to criminalize dissent. See a Marjorie Cohn article on the effort to preempt demonstrations here.

In Truthout.org, Michael Winship writes:
"...the police seemed especially intent on singling out independent journalists and activists covering the Republican convention for the Internet and other alternative forms of media. Over the weekend, police staged preemptive raids on several buildings where planning sessions for demonstrations were being held, one of them a meeting of various video bloggers, including I-Witness Video, a media group that monitors law enforcement."

During several protests held on the week of the Convention, St. Paul police created cordons with few if any avenues of escape. Demonstrators, with press mixed in, were forced to endure showers of chemical agents.

Media people were targetted, or simply treated the same as the demonstrators. During arrests, independent news producers, photographers, and citizen/journalists were forced to lie down in the streets, with hands tied behind their back. Cameras and equipment were seized. Along with dozens of people simply covering the event, Amy Goodman was arrested.

At least not all people filming the event were targetted, judging from the video available of Goodman's arrest [available only through youtube as of 9/10.] This isn't to say the police there were practicing arbitrary and illegal arrest powers, or practicing the unjustified use of force. Back in 1991, Goodman was actually shot and left for dead by the Indonesia military when she'd been reporting on a protest on the island of Timor and a massacre of unarmed Timorians began. She recounts the nightmare here.

Chris Hedges writes about the police state behavior in Truthdig, "You had to search out Democracy Now!, TheUptake.org, Twin Cities Indymedia, I-Witness, along with a few other independent outlets, to see, hear or read real journalism from St. Paul."

Hedges blames the failure of the media to cover both sides of the war issue (pro- and anti-), the police would be more reticent to act, knowing that millions of viewers would see the repression and react negatively to the use of force. The Vietnam era showed the impact that full and accurate coverage of demonstrations could make. Alongside the first war to be brought through television 'into Americans' living rooms,' huge demonstrations made a large impact when carried by the national networks.

Even with all the 'negative' coverage, support for the Vietnam War was I believe over 50% at the time of its closure. It's worth remembering that Republicans now believe that poor management of the public perception was the reason for our losing that war. By curtailing the press and their freedoms, the idea is that Iraq can be made into a success, or at least a non-failure, which will support continuation of the war until it can presumably be won at some point in the future.

Accompanying Hedges' article is a powerful picture of a flower-wielding woman being sprayed with a chemical agent at point blank range (also available in the photo gallery linked below.) The AP photographer, Matt Rourke, was himself injured in the melee later that day, but not before capturing this photo, and this one.

One of the best videos I've seen comes via indybay, which I found through the constant reports eminating from indymedia's Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter. A group of protestors is met by a mixed police and National Guard detachment which actually pursues the dispersing crowd down Shepard Road as they try to move out of the area.

An extensive gallery of still photos is also available through indybay.org. In a different format, the same pictures are viewable in a scroll-down, chronological sequence of blog entries, arranged on a single page format, here.

Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow explained what happened Thursday: "The march ended with more than 200 demonstrators trapped on the Marion Street bridge with hundreds of police in riot gear blocking either side." link. Also at that link is an interview with DemocracyNow producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous arrested Thursday, who explained the situation, "As soon as we were on the bridge, we realized that we were trapped. Everyone—they had a line of riot cops on one side, a line of riot cops on the other, and the marchers had nowhere to go."

Kouddous explains an exchange he had with a policeman--presumably from the city of St. Paul--during his arrest:
"And he goes, you know, 'Why didn’t you guys just disperse when we tell you to disperse, and this is not going to happen?' I told him, 'You’ve been telling me to disperse since 5:00 p.m. And so, you know, there would be no press for four hours of this march. You know, we can’t—we’re just doing our job. We’re not going to disperse whenever you tell us to. We’re going to continue to do this.'”

I couldn't help but remember my brief discussion with a former D.C. police officer last September, as I made my way towards Washington to cover the demonstration there. He'd been very, very specific about warning me to disperse when told by the police to disperse. The St. Paul situation shows what can easily occur if people don't disperse, but I also think it's vital that people get to see another side--a point of view that the corporate media seems to ritually avoid, one that is unedited, straight from the heart, contrasting with the slick image presented of a party unified inside the Convention hall. Without these Ron Kovic moments, there will be insufficient disruption to the state of normalcy in the political sphere, and the status quo--a continuation of the war--will continue.

Goodman explains her own arrest on Monday in her article "Why we were falsely arrested."

As a personal note, I don't know where we'd be without this great reporting. I don't think a free press should be subject to arrest simply for covering an event like this. I admit with not a little pride that I'm a citizen/journalist who has taken to blogging largely because the mainstream media doesn't provide accurate reporting and objective in-depth analysis, so when I see people performing journalistic duties, I naturally tend to sympathize with them. I also don't see how the police using arbitrary powers of arrest is an effective bludgeon to bash in all coverage that might be detrimental to their handling of the situation. While some in the mainstream media might cower at the thought of arrest, we citizen journalists are a tougher breed, I would hope, and less easily intimidated. If not, well then I guess the public will have to rely exclusively on the mainstream media for their news, which I guess is what those who lack the Internet must do anyway.

A large-scale letter-writing campaign was led by FreePress.org in the aftermath of the journalist arrests. Updates on the effort to hold the authorities accountable for their actions are available at thier site, and the website theuptake.org as well, which includes a summary of all the Convention violence.

Surprisingly, the City of St. Paul actually has an agreement with the Republican National Committee to pay for the first $10 million in civil settlements that the city might be forced to pay as the result of successful litigation by those arrested, gassed, or denied their rights. Paul Demko of the Minnesota Independent writes:
"The St. Paul JPA [Joint Powers Agreement] offers participating agencies liability insurance coverage with a $10 million limit. The cost of that insurance is being footed by the RNC’s Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee per an agreement it struck with the city. Some police departments, particularly county sheriffs’ agencies across the metro, are worried that $10 million isn’t really enough to cover potential litigation costs associated with an event of the RNC’s magnitude. And if such expenditures did exceed $10 million, cities and counties fear they could end up on the financial hook." (Source)

Recently a jury found New York City liable for their abuse of protester rights at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City (that was the infamous case of the illegal holding pens set up in the docks.) If the Republicans have simply marked off $10 million as the price of doing business, they would much rather contend with the financial ramifications of violating the rights of demonstrators than risk facing the true scope of public discontent concerning the Iraq War, which they must truly fear.

Speaking of fear, Zack de la Rocha leads his band Rage Against the Machine in an impromtu, acapella song the band's four members played using a bullhorn on Tuesday near the State Capitol. At the bottom of this Raw Story article on the Convention arrests there was an abbreviated video of the performance credited to above-thefold.com, which had a more complete video half-way down a post there, including some political opinion omitted from the shorter Raw Story post. [Editor's Note: Neither of those links was functioning as of September 10th. RATM's website was directing visitors to the same video at the youtube site.]

Dela Rocha points out that the authorities don't fear him or four musicians from Los Angeles, but rather you, the crowd.

World Socialist Web Site--a scary name but good source of information--offers a good article by Jerry White on the official misconduct occuring alongside the Convention. Also worth reading is this blog entry in GeorgeWashington2.blogspot.com.

Palin Family Values

I guess Palin and her supporters reserve the right to remove Bristol, Palin's 17-year-old daughter, from the public spotlight. Barack Obama has obliged the Republicans, agreeing that Bristol's situation is a private family matter.

Marie Cocco, writing in Truthdig, agrees that pregnancy is completely a family matter, an issue over which no one outside the family should be allowed to exercise their control or opinions. In Cocco's opinion, the privacy that families are entitled to should not be violated by the passage of laws and controls over family planning decisions.

Right-to-lifers believe that having a child is a responsibility of all pregnant females. They would take their view and impose it on all families with unwed pregnant daughters, denying them what the Palins desire--just to be left alone to make their decisions free of outside meddling. Under draconian restrictions on abortion--including a set of rules that make victims of rape and incest get parental approval for abortions--the inner sanctity of the family is violated. Families that decide that their teenage daughters aren't yet ready for parental responsibilities would be forced to carry the girl's fetus to full term.

Cocco brings up the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement and its intrusive nature:
Activists have applauded inquisitors who’ve sought to rummage through the medical files of women who have had abortions, under the guise of investigating whether doctors might be performing them in contravention of certain state restrictions. They have sought to make it harder for women even to obtain birth control pills, forcing them to argue with objecting pharmacists in all the privacy afforded by a drugstore aisle. Just days ago, the Bush administration put forth a new rule that would allow objecting health care workers to refuse to tell rape victims about the availability of emergency contraception or refuse to dispense ordinary birth control pills.

Blocking information is a vital element in controlling behavior. What a young woman does not know, she cannot choose. If Palin and others have their way, she won't even be allowed access to borth control, which turns her body into a vehicle for procreation, an essentially fundamentalist view that Palin shares. Another nasty belief is the idea that vicitms of rape and incest should be forced to carry their fetuses to birth. While mayor of Wasilla, Palin required rape victims to pay for their own rape kits. (Alaska has the nation's highest incidence of rape.)

The young man who presumably impregnated Palin's daughter has apparently agreed to marry her. While Bristol, the daughter of a governor, might be able to get married, most teenage girls who get pregnant aren't so lucky. Was the pregnancy was the reason for the marriage, or was the rise of Palin to the scrutiny of a national audience the reason for the marriage? Either way, Bristol's pregnancy was likely the result of inadequate sex education and the absence/familial rejection of brith control as a method to prevent pregancy.

Joe Conason writes in Truthdig:
"As a politician who insists on lecturing adolescents to abstain without teaching them about contraception, she may never have informed Bristol how to protect herself from an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease."
He goes on:
"Surely Sarah and Todd Palin as well as their church gave Bristol a clear message that she should avoid premarital sex. But what we know now is abstinence-only education, whether at school or in the home, fails at least as often as it succeeds. The religious morality of the evangelical right, preaching the return of the sexual mores of decades ago, is no more likely to succeed."

Bristol's personal life is no longer private. She'll be lifted to the nation as a role model of how unmarried teenagers should behave. The marriage after the fact does nothing to glaze over the fact that unmarried teenage girls should not have unprotected sex, and that abstinence-only doesn't work.


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