“They came through the doors, they came through the windows, they had the guns drawn”.
A young, thin anarchist who will name himself only as T is describing the events on Friday afternoon in St Paul, when the “NoRNC” campaign convergence centre — an old fleapit theatre in a crumbling old inner city suburb — was raided by dozens of police, guns drawn, who carted off thirty or so activists under handcuffs, and a pile of computers, equipment, and alleged “weapons of sabotage”, including buckets of ruin and shit.
Across town, the same thing was happening at half a dozen different places — the Coldsnap legal centre, a video-journalism centre and a few well-known activist share houses. Other high-profile figures were simply picked up off the street by roving police cars. The operation was as swift, and smooth as anything the Chinese managed to employ on the streets of Beijing. When a Coldsnap lawyer, Sara Coffey, heard of the raids she was went over to the video centre at Iglehart Avenue to see if anyone needed representation. Approaching the house she too was arrested and had to negotiate for her clients in handcuffs.
Ramsay County sherriff Bob Fletcher claimed that his department had had informants within various activist group “for months”, and that he had information about concrete plans to disrupt the convention, although the group — known as the “RNC welcoming committee” had made explicit claims about disrupting the convention on their website. Four people continued to be detained by Sunday night.
The convergence centre wasn’t the only thing raided. A benefit for striking Starbucks workers also received attention, as did an art protest in Minneapolis’s Peavey Park. The reduction ad absurdum was reached when a “Permabus” carrying people advocating vegan lifestyles was stopped on the freeway and impounded.
By Sunday however, the situation was changing as national groups — such as the national lawyers group — began to get involved, and the raids attracted international attention. Most of the confiscated equipment was returned, indicating that no charges were to be laid against most of the activists arrested at the convergence centre. However by Sunday evening the centre was once again being surrounded by police officers.
Though the police response to groups which had suggested no more than their determination to “disrupt” the convention — which does not necessarly suggest a crime — had more than a whiff of Beijing about it, they were hamstrung by constitutional issues around the search and seizure — which only suggests a redoubled effort of intimidation and harassment may be in order.
The true test of both parties will come tomorrow, when both sides confront each other in the main protest against the convention — a convention which may well be more sparsely attended than the protest against it. Nor will it necessarily be as exciting as the police may hope — those fabled “buckets of shit” never appeared, and, said T, laughing “all the number ones the cops found were in the bathroom — there’s no plumbing!”.
A policeman’s latrine’s not a happy one.