Policies for Repression


Although it's unclear to what extent the mass media (or as I, turning their own equivocations against them, have now taken to calling them, the 'self-described journalists' embedded in the national newspapers and networks) accurately relayed the events, anyone paying attention to the alternative press during the Republican National Convention knows the extent to which the city of St. Paul did everything in its power to violently and preemptively squash any manifestations of dissent. Most spectacular, perhaps, was the arrest of Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman along with her producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, and most troubling are the arrests of the RNC 8, members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group which did not plan a single protest itself, but who, due in part to the tales told by paid informants, are facing charges of 'Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.'

Of course one could (and should) argue that this repression is the predictable extensions of the illegal and inhumane policies perpetrated as central components of the War on Terror, the new 'standards' for the use of torture and extrajudicial detainment from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo coming home to roost. And, on the other hand, as anyone who's been involved in direct action activism for a while should recognize, the police in St. Paul were dishing out the latest variation on an old theme —- the practice of how to shut down a counter-summit protest in the United States having become something of a cottage industry for consultants like John Timoney, who cut his police state teeth during the 2000 protests against the RNC in Philadelphia, and went on to formulate what's been called 'The Miami Model' during the anti-FTAA protests in 2003.

Nevertheless, the recent events in St. Paul have brought to light a new element in this distressing constellation of surveillance, midnight raids at gunpoint, preemptive detention, and an ever expanding political expediency of the charge of 'terrorism'. While it's one thing for activists to suspect that the suppression of dissent is becoming a standard operating procedure, it's another thing entirely to see cities and police departments themselves recognizing this explicitly. The city of St. Paul was proud to announce that taxpayers would not bear the brunt of any lawsuits leveled against the city and its police response —- for it had had the foresight to compel the Republican Party itself (in other words, it's corporate sponsors) to take out an insurance policy which would indemnify the city against whatever claims the rabble might bring against it, to the tune of $10 million in coverage. Apparently, at least since the 2004 RNC protests in NYC, where settlements so far have run to at least $2 million, this kind of 'forward thinking' has become de rigeur for the host city of a convention wanting to make sure that the temporary elimination of civil liberties doesn't come at too high a cost.

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