As Hurricane Gustav bore down on New Orleans and the gulf coast, Republican presidential contender John McCain and other higher-ups in his party made the decision to show concern and compassion toward residents living in the storm's path by scaling down the partying and celebration at the Republican National Convention (RNC), which is currently being held in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. President Bush announced that he would not be attending or speaking at the convention. Instead, he would be flying down to San Antonio in order to oversee emergency operations once the hurricane had passed.
After their slow response and lack of empathy for Katrina survivors, the Bush Administration and all of their Republican supporters were given a second chance by Gustav to respond to a natural disaster in a much more appropriate manner; this time they would show their compassion for the suffering masses. How could they not? With the presidential elections only some two months away, the party that had shown so much disdain for Katrina victims three years ago needed to put on a new face - to show how much they now care.
Events in the twin cities area however, tell a much different story. Here, there are no kind smiles - no platitudes of compassion or love for humanity. Instead, there is only a police state with its violation of our most basic rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.
On Friday August 29, armed police and agents from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department broke into a building where members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were eating and watching a movie. Those unfortunate enough to be present during the raid, including at least one child, were forced down on the floor at gunpoint, then handcuffed and detained. None of those present had committed a crime, nor had any even engaged in so much as an act of civil disobedience.
The raid upon the welcoming committee was only the first of many however, as reports coming from the independent media tell of the municipal police, Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, and the FBI bursting into private homes with guns pointed at activists and children in what is allegedly being called by that county's sheriff's department, pre-emptive raids. It has been reported that before the raids against citizens even began, Sheriff Bob Fletcher had referred to the anarchists, who would be coming to the twin cities area to protest Republican policies, as "criminals." Those actually protesting in the streets are facing a welcoming to Saint Paul with concussion grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, batons, charging horses, gas masks, rubber bullets and more.
Reports coming out of the area indicate that the police seem to be targeting journalists and those with video cameras. On Monday, two co-producers for the daily news program Democracy Now, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar,were arrested on suspicion of rioting. Upon hearing the news of their arrest, program host Amy Goodman rushed to their location in order to free them. Upon asking to talk to the police commander in charge, she too was arrested. At the time of this writing, all three have been released. Some however, have not been so fortunate. Reports coming out of Saint Paul now tell of some detainees being kept in 23-hour solitary confinement; yet, many of these have not even been charged with a crime.
I called the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department this morning in order to register my complaint against its unlawful and unconstitutional actions against journalists and activists expressing their First Amendment rights. Upon asking the receptionist what in God's name does the Sheriff's Department think it's doing, she replied, "We're trying to make things nicer."
"Nicer?" I asked. "You call pointing guns at and handcuffing children, traumatising them by roughing up their parents, and arresting journalists and other people who have committed no crime nice?"
She simply replied by saying, "I'll pass your opinion along to the sheriff." I'm sure that she will.
What's happening outside of the Republican National Convention is unconstitutional, criminal, and is an afront to anyone who believes in freedom. It is fascism, pure and simple. It is however and excellent indicator of where our society is heading under the security state that has been imposed upon us by the Bush Administration, and its enablers, both Republican and Democratic.
In recent months, many have wondered what has happened to the anti-war movement in the United States. The consensus of some has been that it slowly running out of steam. Further, overall attendance by protesters at both the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the RNC has been lower than organizers had hoped for. The ever escalating brutality and outright violation of civil liberties at the hands of those to whom the public trust is given - the local sheriff's and police departments, might have something to do with the low turnout of protesters. Author and activist Naomi Wolf, in her recent book entitled The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot describes a scenario in which it becomes no longer a viable option for a person to engage in political dissent due to the severity of consequences imposed by a fascist state against one's freedom, family or even life. The ruthless behavior of law-enforcement agencies in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area is a prime example of such a scenario in action, and similar situations, which have taken place in the recent past, might account for the diminishing numbers of dissenters willing to risk themselves before the new national security state.
While the mainstream media appears to be giving scant coverage of the travesties taking place in the twin cities area, the independent media is filled with reports, photos, and video of events taking place there. A good start would be by going to Twin Cities Indymedia. Lots of resources can be found there.
I am a writer who specializes in editorial/commentary-type articles as well as the occasional feature story. I am an editor for the Arkansas Independent Media Center (Arkansas Indymedia) who has written for various other online and print publications. Additionally, I am a long-time peace and environmental activist who resides in Northwest Arkansas.