September 01, 2008
Update: Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar Released After Illegal Arrest at RNC
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 1, 2008
Contact: Mike Burke
Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar Released After Illegal Arrest at RNC
Goodman Charged with Obstruction; Felony Riot Charges Pending Against Kouddous and Salazar
ST. PAUL--Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar have all been released from police custody in St. Paul following their illegal arrest by Minneapolis Police on Monday afternoon.
All three were violently manhandled by law enforcement officers. Abdel Kouddous was slammed against a wall and the ground, leaving his arms scraped and bloodied. He sustained other injuries to his chest and back. Salazar's violent arrest by baton-wielding officers, during which she was slammed to the ground while yelling, "I'm Press! Press!," resulted in her nose bleeding, as well as causing facial pain. Goodman's arm was violently yanked by police as she was arrested.
On Tuesday, Democracy Now! will broadcast video of these arrests, as well as the broader police action. These will also be available on: www.democracynow.org
On her program this morning, Goodman reported on a police raid this weekend, targetting independent media workers who were in town to document and deter police harrasment and repression of demonstrators. This was part of a series of pre-emptive raids coordinated by the Feds.
The press release continues:
Goodman was arrested while questioning police about the unlawful detention of Kouddous and Salazar who were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman's crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were arrested on suspicion of rioting, a felony. While the three have been released, they all still face charges stemming from their unlawful arrest. Kouddous and Salazar face pending charges of suspicion of felony riot, while Goodman has been officially charged with obstruction of a legal process and interference with a "peace officer."
Democracy Now! forcefully rejects all of these charges as false and an attempt at intimidation of these journalists. We demand that the charges be immediately and completely dropped.
Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities' law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amendment rights of these journalists.
During the demonstration in which the Democracy Now! team was arrested, law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force against protesters and journalists. Several dozen demonstrators were also arrested during this action, including a photographer for the Associated Press.
Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism's top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and the subsequent criminal charges and threat of charges are a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists.
Democracy Now! is a nationally-syndicated public TV and radio program that airs on over 700 radio and TV stations across the US and the globe.
Here's a portion of the transcript from this morning's show, dealing with pre-emptive police raids conducted before the convention:
AMY GOODMAN: As we interviewed Jon Stewart at the Minneapolis airport next to baggage claim, we got a text message that Democracy Now! videographer, filmmaker Elizabeth Press, who had arrived before us, had been arrested, or she had been detained, or she was in a house with I-Witness Video, and somehow the group was surrounded by police. That was the last details we had. We had the address of the place; they were texted to us. And we raced off.
Armed groups of police in the Twin Cities have raided more than a half-a-dozen locations since Friday night in a series of preemptive raids before the Republican convention. The coordinated searches were led by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher but conducted in coordination with federal agencies.
Five Minnesotan activists are still detained on probable cause holds, which means they can be held for thirty-six hours without charge, excluding weekends and public holidays. According to this timeline, they won't be released before Wednesday. The sheriff called them "criminal anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention."
The raids and detentions have targeted activists planning to protest the Republican National Convention, as well as journalists and videographers documenting police actions at protests. Groups directly affected by the raids include Food Not Bombs, the RNC Welcoming Committee, I-Witness Video and Communities United Against Police Brutality.
Democracy Now! spoke to Michelle Gross from Communities United Against Police Brutality on Sunday. She was at the activist convergence space Friday night when it was raided.
MICHELLE GROSS: I was sitting there waiting for a meeting to happen with other legal people. We were working with a kind of a collective of legal people, and we were waiting to have a meeting. And I was literally just sitting there drinking some water and relaxing, when, you know, these Ramsey County Sheriff's Department people came blazing in, screaming "Get on the floor! Get on the floor!" and waving guns at everybody in their faces.
And they basically-at the time, I quickly thought and opened up my video camera and hit my record button and started recording the scene. Then, because they were, you know, waving guns in my face, of course, I had to hit the floor, but I kept my camera recording the whole time.
AMY GOODMAN: Gross was held for forty-five minutes, then released. But when she returned home, she found her home and car had been broken into and all her documents thoroughly searched.
Goodman also interviewed FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley. Here's the beginning of that segment:
AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, you're a former FBI agent. As I talked to Elizabeth, our producer, here in St. Paul, one of the people who was arrested or detained at I-Witness, it seems that they were careful not to arrest at least this group but detain them for hours. They're handcuffed. One of the protesters, his arms were red for hours afterwards. But she said that before the police came in, the FBI was there. What is the role of the FBI in this? Who is doing this?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can tell you what it's supposed to be. And then I retired in 2004, and so these fusion centers have grown, of course, since that time, and who knows what it actually now amounts to? What it actually is supposed to be is in a major event, such as the RNC, the FBI is really to take the lead on the counterintelligence aspect, which, of course, if there was a true threat-let's say there was a domestic terrorism group, which is-this is what we're talking about. We're talking about at the very most nonviolent civil disobedience. So the confusion with true intelligence for a terrorist threat is quite enormous. There's a big range there. But in a real case, obviously, if you really did have, let's say, the Aryan Brotherhood or something like that, a group bent on terrorism, the FBI is supposed to take the lead on that and coordinate the intelligence gathering.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your experience with preemptive raids?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, the word "preemptive," of course, is- should send a red flag up, because that word came into play right before the Iraq war. And, of course, we all know that it's very, very difficult to determine ahead of time what is a true threat. And so, when you start this word "preemptive," and now, unfortunately, it seems to have migrated to domestic law enforcement. You cannot determine-we always talk about intent and capability, and if you really know that a group is going to pull off a bank robbery, you really have to make sure that an overt act is committed in furtherance of that. It's not enough to know, for instance, that somebody's talking about a bank robbery. So that's a problem here, and certainly when you get into satire and, you know, taunts and this type of thing, it seems to be a terribly misguided and an overreaction on the part of police.
And it has terrible consequences, actually, for policing, too, which I can talk about later. People put this-they try to say, well, security, we must sacrifice civil liberties. They think of it as a tradeoff. And it is absolutely not true. Our security does depend on good police work. And so, when police do this, and they go against their own community policing model, they actually so distrust, so that if they do want to ask a question of someone next time, let's say, there is a true threat, somebody may say, "I don't want to talk to you. I know what happened last week when you handcuffed people incorrectly." This is just sending a very bad signal to police work. And I'm sure there are many police officers who are just as disappointed with this, because it's going to make their job in the future much more difficult.
There is nothing fundmentally new in this, however. Similar repressive tactics, though not as widespread, systemic and extreme, were seen during the last year of the Clinton Administration, though with far less evidence of federal coordination. However, from "The Battle in Seattle" in November, 1999, onward there was a pattern repeated at a number of major demonstrations, a pattern of police repression coordinated with a media blackout of police misconduct, and propagandistic reporting in justification of that conduct. There were some notable exceptions to this, particularly print journalists in Philadelphia at the Republican National Convention. But for the most part, there was an apparently tacit cooperative relationship between media and police that produced a stunning roll-back of First Amendment rights.
Shortly before the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, eight years ago, I wrote a paper--"The Empire Strikes Back: Police Repression of Protest From Seattle To L.A."--documenting this pattern as a form of warning about what to expect. A lurker and occassional poster here, bystander, emailed me about this paper today, which is available here, in PDF.
The introduction is as follow:
The new wave of high profile protests that began in Seattle has been met by a rapidly-evolving police response that combines repression of basic democratic rights with manipulative, propagandistic media relations. An overview of this evolving response is crucial for understanding the kinds of police actions that are likely to occur during the Democratic Convention, and the kinds of spin, distortion and outright lies that might be expected from the police and the corporate media which largely accept the police view as the only view.
Protester's complaints about violations of fundamental rights are deadly serious. The strongest evidence of this is a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government and the District of Columbia growing out of the A-16 protests last April. The lawsuit charges these governments designed and executed an illegal, unconstitutional plan to disrupt and suppress peaceful protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (INF). It was filed by the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild and Partnership for Civil Justice on behalf of organizations and individuals involved in the protests, including Fifty Years is Enough, the International Action Center, and the Mobilization for Global Justice.
The 10-count lawsuit charges a wide range of violations, all of which served the overall purpose of suppressing fundamental First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly for thousands of protesters. The lawsuit itself tells a chilling story of police-state-style repression, but the events it covers are unfortunately not an aberration. They're the most complete and extreme example of a ongoing pattern of repression dating back at least as far as the anti-WTO protests in Seattle last year. Similar tactics of disruption have been used in Canada as well in early June, during the OAS meetings in Windsor, Ontario and the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary, Alberta, with the most twists added in Philadelphia.
What's involved here is not simply legitimate police action to preserve the peace and arrest lawbreakers.
Rather, it's yet another chapter in the long history of using state power to suppress political dissent.
In all five cases we've seen police actions designed to stifle political expression, and disrupt political organizing. Tactics have included:
- widespread police brutality
- mass false arrest
- brutal treatment after arrest
- broad zones--up to 50 city blocks--declared off-limits for free speech
- literature and political artwork confiscated and destroyed
- police raids against organizing centers to intimidate participants, confiscate property, and shut down operations
- personal property stolen and destroyed
- peaceful protests deliberately misrepresented as violent and terroristic in order to discredit them and discourage others from participating
- false claims misrepresenting innocent objects as weapons or bombs
- harassment and intimidation of activists during pre-demonstration organizing
- detention, jailing and/or deportation of targeted individual activists while engaged in no
overt political action
- charging extraordinary high bails--up to $1,000,000 for 7 misdemeanors for Ruckus Society executive director John Sellars in Philadelphia.
- filing absurd charges--in Philadelphia, 70+ people arrested inside a puppet-making warehouse space were charged with obstructing traffic.
- using sealed indictments, to hide their dirty war on the Constitution from public view and legal challenge.
Throughout all this, the corporate media has been broadly complicit in stifling and misrepresenting dissent, further discouraging people from exercising their constitutional rights, and providing cover for further police repression. This wholesale attack on First and Fourth Amendment rights is perhaps the number one under-reported story of the past 9 months.
These tactics weren't employed all at once. Some were present from the beginning, but others developed over time, as local police departments, state and federal agencies strategized together--and in combination with foreign counterparts. Because of the length of this report, it is broken down into separate documents dealing with different events.
The earlier events, which others have systematically examined, are dealt with more compactly and analytically. The more recent events are dealt with in greater descriptive detail, with attention give to the development of police rationales and media reports.
This assault on political expression is carried out by the police, but it is not simply a police action.
It is also political theater. The manipulation of media to suppress dissent is clearly part of the plan, as we shall see below. Most of this manipulation is outside the scope of this report, but is discussed in other articles on this site or linked to from this site.
In contrast to TV coverage, talk radio, columnists and op-ed writers, it will be seen that a number of print reporters working for corporate media are doing a fairly decent job of balanced reporting on the limited subject of specific police/protester conflicts, and their reporting will be specifically referenced.
However, there are severe limits to the concept of "balance" when one doesn't question fundamental assumptions. If, as has happened, those in power repeatedly make patently ridiculous claims which are treated with respect, then "balanced" reporting serves to reinforce these claims, simply by making them known without being subject to scrutiny. At the same time, counter-claims by activists, their attorneys and others, however reasonable, and well-grounded in law and fact, are inherently more subject to doubt, simply because they don't come from "authorities."
Furthermore, the best print coverage is easily overwhelmed by sensationalized TV coverage, where vivid, but unrepresentative images of property destruction easily create false impressions among many that this is all and everything that the protests are about. But even viewers who also read the most fair and balanced print reportage, will have their natural bias to trust authorities reinforced by the misleading negative impressions of protesters they've seen on TV.
Consequently, even the most "fair" and "balanced" print reporting cannot help but inadvertently contribute to further distorted impressions, which in turn help police justify and carry out their continued suppression of political expression. This is why such reporting should be carefully examined for assumptions, implications, and impressions conveyed, even while it is used to establish certain facts.
It's the purpose of this report to recount what's happened, to offer critiques along the way and to stimulate thinking about how to continue to respond to this remarkable war against free political expression that's being waged largely without notice in the midst of the so-called "information age."