Following another day of arrests, and after reflecting on the last week, I have some thoughts:
1) In many ways, the anarchists won. Their goal was apparently to create chaos and anarchy, and this they did. If their plan was to cause chaos for the RNC delegates, however, they missed their mark: what they did was to severely disrupt the civil liberties of the citizens of the Twin Cities and their visitors.
I have not had a whole lot of contact with police at demonstrations. I have marched on Washington a couple of times for queer rights and reproductive rights, and I held a line against "Operation Save America" when they invaded Buffalo a while back. The advantage we had then was that we were not throwing things at the police, nor were we being wantonly destructive. I am pretty sure that those who did these things in St. Paul expected the brutal response they received, and if not, then they should have. I'm quite sure the organizers did, and they are to blame for putting in harm's way any youth who didn't have a good sense of what they were up against.
Yes, I'm playing the middle-aged card. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: neither is ignorance of history. If you are planning to confront police in riot gear, you should at least have learned from the innumberable lessons of the past what will happen next. It's great to be dewy-eyed and committed, but you also need to be shrewd and to educate yourself.
2) I am angry at the anarchist groups that ruined what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration of people who have, many of them, committed their lives to peace. It's easy to disrupt someone else's event, and it probably makes you feel powerful. That doesn't mean that your movement has any substance to it. Know that what you did was to overshadow what would have been a significant showing of peaceful protest, something that would have had an impact on the rest of the nation. Already, because of you, the RNC, most if not all of the Republican Party, and many Democrats have dismissed the entire protest as simply a bunch of hoodlums who wanted to create havoc. You didn't care about stopping the war or the Republican machine. You just wanted to get out there and break things, and this was a great excuse for you to do it. Thanks for nothing.
3) I am angry at the St. Paul police, along with the Minneapolis police, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Secret Service. In the process of responding to real threats from the anarchist groups, these groups used excessive force, which is a euphemism that means they beat people badly, they used rubber bullets, tasers, tear gas, and pepper spray - and they used this excessive force not only against folks who had weapons, but against folks who were just standing there, who were not part of the anarchist groups, and who were not even in the vicinity of the riots. They also arrested people without cause. They arrested members of the press who had identified themselves and showed the police their id - and some of these were charged with rioting. They shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors practicing civil disobedience because the group would not disperse. Their violence was not limited to those few people who were setting fires and attacking delegates (and you can see Bfp for a discussion of whether, in such cases, excessive force is really ok (for some reason, I can't get her page to load, so I can only link you to the blog home and not to the specific piece that I am thinking of)).
How is it that we accept that police may round up peaceful citizens and press - and then shoot rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd? On MPR this morning, Mayor Coleman stated in defense of these brutal acts that took place yesterday that the police had warned the crowd numerous times to disperse. Do we as a society think these tactics are appropriate for dispersing a peaceful crowd? In some cases, police confronted with this scenario have chosen to stand down and allow the crowd to have its sit-in. The only crime here was that the marchers stayed beyond their permit time. Is this a tear gas worthy crime?
4) I am angry at St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for not standing up for the citizens of his city and for taking sides with the police against them. He seems to see nothing wrong with the police catching up innocent bystanders and peaceful protestors in a sweep, yet stories have been surfacing all week of people asking police for help or being told by the police to head in a certain direction to get away from the protests and leave, but finding that when they got where the police had directed them to go, they were surrounded and arrested.
5) I am angry at the journalists in St. Paul and nationwide who have not covered the stories of the arrests of journalists. That these arrests have gone largely unnoticed is particularly striking, as it suggests a sense that we as a society believe that the police and other law-enforecement officials have absolute power to use as they see fit. In fact, they do not. They are subject to the law, and when they arrest someone without cause, when they arrest members of the press, when they use excessive forece, when they do this on a routine basis, as they appear to have done over the last week, it suggests that they are 1) incompetent; 2) drunk with power; or 3) attempting to suppress free speech. I sincerely hope that what we have seen here is incompetence and that it will be rectified.