You Don’t Live in a Police State? Guess Again.

I’m a bit tardy in posting this due to the holiday, but as it’s important to discuss it and will remain important to remember for years to come, I’m bringing it up again, even though some may unfortunately already feel it’s old news.

Apparently, someone within the Twin Cities local government felt it was within their rights to threateningly enter the homes of innocent people against whom they have no evidence of wrongdoing and proceed to terrorize said people at gunpoint and apparently a judge agreed with them.

Make no mistake, they were indeed terrorizing them. Speaking as someone who has been harassed by a group of police officers, I can tell you without hyperbole that it is terrifying to be forced to listen to the taunting jeers of those with unquestionable authority, especially when they’re armed. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if they forced their way into my home (where I generally hope to feel safe) dressed in riot gear, refused to show a warrant, handcuffed me while I stared speechless at the barrel of a semi-automatic weapon, and forced me to lie on the ground while they referred to each other as the “terminator” or the “exterminator”.

This is NOT a Republican issue and please do not do yourself the disservice of assuming it is. The point is that “democratically” elected officials have the power to do this and we do not believe we have the power to stop them. This is not the behavior of the governing body of a true democracy. This is the behavior of a state in which the government and the people are separate.

Please also do not make the mistake of thinking that this will not happen to you because you are law abiding. Again, there was no evidence against these people. Maybe you assume you will not be the victim of this kind of abuse because you do not put yourself in the position these people did by planning to exercise their rights to assemble and speak freely? Then I ask, are you willing to give up those rights? What happens when you do find yourself faced with a situation in which you feel you need to speak out?

These immoral raids only serve as a reminder that you’re safe, as long as you remain complacent.

The text links in the article I’ve copied below won’t work so check out the original article from for more details. Videos are embedded.

Glenn Greenwald
Saturday Aug. 30, 2008 12:44 EDT
Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis

[updated below (with video) – Update II – Update III – Update IV]

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning — one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a “hippie house,” where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with “peaceful kids” who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.

In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.

Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. Nestor said that last night’s raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, and that this morning’s raids appeared to target members of “Food Not Bombs,” which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.

Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.

UPDATE: Here is the first of the videos, from the house that had just been raided:

Jane Hamsher has more here, and The Minnesota Independent has a report on another one of the raided houses, here.

UPDATE II: Here is the video we took from the second house as the raid was occurring. We were barred from entering but spoke with neighbors outside as well as with Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota Lawyer’s Guild, regarding these raids:

Over at FDL, Lindsay Beyerstein spoke with the property owner whose house — the fourth one we now know of — was being raided while the raid was in progress, and Lindsay has details here (“About an hour and a half ago 20 to 30 heavily armed police officers surrounded the house. One of my roommates said ‘I want to see a warrant’ and she was immediately detained”). Meanwhile, Indy Media of Twin Cities — an association of independent journalists in the area — just told me that several of their journalists have been detained while trying to cover these raids. Their site, with ongoing updates, is here.

The Uptake also has several reports of the various raids, including video of the raid at the property whose owner Bernstein spoke with as the raid occurred. That video includes an interview with a lawyer from the National Lawyer’s Guild who was detained and put in handcufffs, explaining that the surrounded house is one where various journalists are staying. Additionally, a photojournalist with Democracy Now was detained at that house as well. So, both journalists and lawyers — in addition to protesters — have been detained and arrested even though not a single violent or criminal act has occurred.

UPDATE III: FDL has the transcript of part of my discussion about these raids with the National Lawyer Guild’s Minnesota President — here.

The Uptake has this amazing video interview with the Democracy Now producer who was detained today. As the DN producer explains, she was present at a meeting of a group called “I-Witness” — which videotaped police behavior at the 2004 GOP Convention in New York and helped get charges dismissed against hundreds of protesters who were arrested. The police surrounded the St. Paul house where they were meeting even though they had no warrant, told them that anyone who exited the house would be arrested, and then — even though they finally, after several hours, obtained a warrant only for the house next door — basically broke into the house, pointed weapons at everyone inside, handcuffed them, searched the house, and then left. Here is a blog post from one of the members of I-Witness asking for help during the time when they were forced to stay inside the house (see the second post — it reads like a note from a hostage crying out for help). This is truly repugnant, extreme police behavior designed to intimidate protesters, police critics and others, and it ought to infuriate anyone and everyone who cares about basic liberties.

UPDATE IV: More here, including on the Federal Government’s role in these raids.


6 thoughts on “You Don’t Live in a Police State? Guess Again.

  1. I certaily don’t approve of what happened, but the “RNC Welcoming Committee” was the group responsible for the 20-30 people who threw bricks through windows of innocent businesses in downtown st paul, and lit on fire and threw those heavy city street garbage cans on cars. The only thing I approve of are the tens of thousands of protesters who didn’t trash the property of the uninvolved.

  2. The biggest problem has been the out of town protesters. MPR interviewed the first 8 protesters arrested and only one of them was from Minnesota, and that guy was from Rochester who drove up to St. Paul just to cause problems. My girlfriend went to the “Daily Show” taping yesterday and they wouldn’t let people out right away because a group of Anarchists was about to get violent outside. She said there were police in riot gear on horseback and a lot of freaked out people. But there were violent Anarchists around wrecking stuff.
    Invading homes like you described is a no-no, and there’s been enough attention brought that this case will be dealt with. Keeping the asshats who came to town just to trash stuff in line is what the police are supposed to be doing, and they have been doing a good job here for the most part.

  3. I disagree that the police are doing a good job. Asshats trashing stuff is not on par with police busting into homes refusing to show a warrant and brandishing semi-automatic weapons.

    The problem is that the police have the power of the state behind them. They have the power to act as they see fit and when it is shown that they step out of line, it is the same state supporting them that has to take responsibility to reprimand them.

    Yes, they have to keep them in line to a certain extent or people will turn against their own government, but they are still a branch of the same entity. Saying that this case will be “dealt with” is putting the power into their own hands to deal with themselves, letting them choose their own punishment. And what happens next time? They do the same thing and they get the same slap on the wrist because people trust that it will be “dealt with”.

    Sadly, I did expect that people would be more concerned about the obvious violation of rights and downright immorality of the way the situation was handled. I did expect people to question the evidence presented further…the cops are criticized for their behavior, they say another cop told them these things would happen, the same cops tell us the people they raided are the same people they heard talking (yes, TALKING) about these things, and people just take it all at face value.

    Even if you believe all of that without a third party witness or seeing for yourself, there is still the issue of their failure to present a warrant and the terrorizing treatment of people who up to that point had committed no crime (except perhaps to talk about things they were going to do to cops, as angry people often do).

    Of course, most people will not fear or be outraged by this sort of abuse of power until they are faced with it themselves. I hope no one shows up at my house in riot gear because I’m posting a blog implying that the police should not be the only ones responsible for policing themselves.

  4. The only police who are backed by the state in MN are the state patrol and park rangers. The saint paul police are backed by the city concil.
    The police don’t police themselves. If they violate your rights you go to court where an officer does nothing but give testimony. And the courts do side against the police, even when the defendant is guilty of a crime. In 2005 Minneapolis paid out $1.4 million in police misconduct lawsuits.
    What those officers did may have been wrong, but the police as a whole, I think, does a good job.

  5. I’m not sure what rights you’re referring to being violated. The right to peacably assemble and the right to free speech have never included planning violence. Do you really think they should?

    According to the police report, these people committed crimes and showed their intent to risk other people’s lives in the imminent future. That’s pretty good grounds for their arrest. And given that they made their willingness to attack police officers pretty plain and that they were staying in large groups, arresting them with overwhelming force was in all likelihood the only way to prevent someone from dying. Would you have preferred to see a stand-off and eventual shoot-out? Would you have preferred to see one of the protestors violently resist arrest and be beaten?

    Also, I don’t know what story you read, but the police did present a warrant. They’re not required to present a warrant before they put the handcuffs on. They’re required, constitutionally, to obtain it before conducting a search or siezure. That’s all the constitution grants you. Other laws say they need to present it before hauling you in, and they did that. If you conspire to commit violent acts and the worst that befalls you is having to wait for 45 minutes before seeing why you’re being lawfully detained, I’d say that’s a pretty good system.

    This is, of course, assuming the police’s side of the story is true. If these are trumped-up charges, then yeah, they stepped out of line, but they also will have violated basic operating procedures to do so. And if that’s the case, I don’t so much think the system itself is to blame as much as some corrupt people within it and I hope they’ll be punished for it.

    I have sympathy for your run-in with police but you have to realize that by and large the police exist to prevent far worse things. Even the cop that comes by and tells you to keep it down at night is part of a system of laws that ultimately is there because without them, your neighbor would come by with a shotgun and threaten to kill you. Without legal justice, the only solution is vigilante justice which is always always always worse that the incident you’re so upset about.

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