Thursday, September 4, 2008

It's 3:00AM -- Canaries in the Coal Mine

A friend called me yesterday while I was finishing up my work for the day. "Have you heard," he said, "they're tasering protesters in Minneapolis and St. Paul." I said no, I hadn't heard that. He said it was in the paper, I'd better take a look. I told him some of what I had been reading and seeing on the Internets, about the numerous assaults by police and the mass arrests. He hadn't heard about the numbers arrested, had no idea so many had been hauled away.

Then I got around to checking out FDL's extensive and disturbing coverage of the police overkill in the Twin Cities. I'd been following Glenn Greenwald's less extensive but equally outraged coverage and had been spending a good deal of time in a kind of "dialogue" with various commenters there about the events unfolding outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. So, clearly I had missed a good deal of the news.

One of the noticeable aspects of the reports of what was going on in Minneapolis and St. Paul was that apparently very few people cared about what happened to a few hundred "anarchists" who got out of line. They broke windows!!! And they deserved every bit of what they got. There is nothing worse in the history of Domestic Terrorism than the breaking of windows!!!! Except for the balloons full of urine. And the bags of feces.

Then there were the reports of what happened to Keith Smith, 17, of Menomonie, Wisconsin.

According to reports, he'd actually stopped a line of police by sitting down in the street, shaking his sistrum, and being photographed. His action evoked something of the admiration people around the world have for the brave fellow in Beijing who stopped a line of tanks headed to Tienanmin Square to put down the revolt there in 1989.

Somewhat later -- how much later, I don't know -- he was assaulted by five police officers and beaten before he was arrested and taken to a juvenile detention center where he was held for a couple of hours and then released. His injuries are documented here.

And he is one of many peaceful and non resisting citizens and demonstrators who have been brutalized by the hyper militarized police forces deployed in St. Paul to protect and defend the Republican National Convention from the crazed youth who otherwise would interfere with their party.

As I watched some of the videos on this page, I became angrier and angrier that this sort of outrageous police overreaction continues in this country every time there is a significant gathering of the rich and the powerful in a city, gatherings which are by their nature subject to protest by citizens.

On a smaller scale the same thing happened in Denver during the Democratic National Convention. The police there also received $50 million and direction from the Secret Service and the FBI; but in St. Paul and Minneapolis (where many of the raids and pre-convention arrests took place), the brutality and the constant police instigated conflict, as well as the mass arrests and brutalization while in custody reached a new level -- for this year.

Of course it is nothing new. Since the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, there's been repeated street warfare and street theatre again and again all over the country, large scale peaceful marches and protests being broken up and put down brutally.

Yet strangely, sports fans continue to riot whenever their team wins or loses, and there is little more than a shrug from the hyper-vigilant and militarized police forces. Strangely, enormous protests against the Iraq War, protests organized by a coalition of Communists, have gone off almost without a hitch. And strangely, too, Americans tend to look at these things -- when they look at all -- with a sort of distate and with boredom.

How do we break the cycle?

These incidents are the canaries in the coalmine for our deteriorating, vanishing rights as citizens of a free and prosperous land. Many Americans simply don't care what's happening to scruffy youths who think they have the right to mouth off to Authority. Yet what happens to those scruffy youth now is quite likely to be what happens to anyone in the future who tries to exercise civil and political rights against the orders and wishes of the Powers That Be. For now, the youths being brutalized by the Authorities in St. Paul are not like you and me, any more than the criminals being held in our bulging prisons and jails are like the rest of us. They are separate and different and so they can be -- and are -- treated with surpassing indifference by the rest of us, and with apalling brutality by the Authorities.

But what happens to them could happen to any of us.

And that's what those who do the brutalizing and those who are indifferent to -- or celebrate it -- need to come to understand.

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