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Police Crackdown in St. Paul

September 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Amy Goodman getting manhandled by St. Paul policeI was not planning on writing much about the bike-sharing programs (Bikes Belong) at the DNC and RNC conventions. As much as the programs could help bring biking to the masses, I didn’t want to do anything that would legitimize the conventions— each seems anti-democratic to me. Large corporations are throwing around millions of dollars at the conventions. In some countries, they call it bribery; here in the U.S. it’s called lobbying.

It seems like only a few days ago, it was popular for major U.S.-based television news programs to condemn the government of China for human right abuses, spying on their citizens, and brutal police crackdowns. It was easy for all the networks to point their fingers at the Chinese government and say, “Shame.”

I knew we were likely to see the same thing here in the U.S., at one or both conventions. It was only a few short years ago when the New York Police Department indiscriminately arrested thousands of people because they dared exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Well, yesterday Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and two of the show’s producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested while carrying out their journalistic duties. Check out the video of Goodman’s arrest, below:

[httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ]

Democracy Now! is the best contemporary radio program in existence. I’ve linked to their articles and videos before. Amy Goodman is one of the most prominent pro-freedom activists in the world, today. She openly challenges power—whether Democratic or Republican—and she does it to protect the innocent and powerless.

To see Goodman get manhandled like that—and arrested without cause—makes my blood boil. She’s one of us, trying to make the world a slightly better place. That’s what being an activist is all about: not being satisfied with the status quo. Democracy Now! covered Portland bike issues back in April. It’s the type of news program that gives voice to people who are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media. Those people are people like us: transportation and bicycle advocates who will not easily break into the pages of our national news media, bound and dominated as they are by automobile advertising interests.

Whether it was the Republican National Committee, the St. Paul Police Department, the FBI, or the Secret Service, whoever was responsible should be held to account. If people broke the law and illegally arrested clearly-credentials news reporters, then they should be held to account, up to and including being arrested and held, themselves. But it should be done legally. The idea that some organizations will only have to pay a small fine for their abuse of power, and only years after the damage was done, is not acceptable.

Earlier in the weekend, Elizabeth Press, another Democracy Now! producer, was detained and held at a house when the police raided it. Some of us might recognize Press’s name from the awesome work she’s done on StreetFilms. What is going on in St. Paul?

The police forces in St. Paul should not be unleashed to raid, intimidate, interrupt, interfere, jail, and/or harass protesters, including and especially journalists. We should all be left alone to work to change the system democratically, and we should be free from state interference. Isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

An AP photographer was also rounded up in the mass arrests.

For me, like John Pucher, bicycling is about more than just bicycling—it’s about justice. Poor people should be able to get on a bike and get to safety. Women should be able to bike to and from work just as often as men. Poor communities should not have highways driven through the middle of them, subjecting them to noise, pollution, and social stratification.

To me, bicycling, freedom, justice, and democracy are all linked; they are all interdependent. We need to be able to carry out our advocacy work without fear of being subject to a government crackdown.

As soon as I found out about Amy Goodman’s arrest, I called the St. Paul Police Department, and then the jail. We managed to pressure the police to release Goodman after about three hours, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar after about six hours. That was three hours and six hours too long, respectively. None of them should have ever been arrested. We need to pressure public officials, the St. Paul police department, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the public at large that government crackdowns, in the form of harassment, arrests, and intimidation, are not acceptable.

Here are the best folks to contact to complain about the treatment of protesters and journalists:
* The GOP
* The St. Paul Police Department
* Your elected representatives

I would suggest we also contact the FBI and the Secret Service, but honestly, those guys scare me.

The National Guard was also involved. I thought the Posse Comitatus Act protected us from the use of federal troops exercising police powers within the U.S. This shows how much I know about law and order.

And, in an ironic twist, there were plenty of bicycles to be seen being used by protesters and the police, alike. The police even used them as battering rams to attack protesters, which is not exactly what I had in mind when I started this petition. I was thinking the police might be more interested in riding their bikes. In fairness, they did seem to do a bit of that, too.

If you’re like me, and not great on the phone when confronting public officials, then write an email. Anything helps—every single email, every single call. They’re all important. I’ve seen it happen too many times: contacting your representatives can work. Phone calls are best, but an email can work, too.

Also, keep tuning in to Democracy Now! for updates as they come in. Unfortunately, I’m sure there will be more violence, and more harassment and arrests of innocent protesters and journalists alike. The St. Paul Police Chief, John M. Harrington, seems like he’s been given free reign by the local courts and local and national politicians to arrest whoever he wants for however long he wants. It’s unacceptable. We have to stop it.

We have to look out for each other. Do what you can.

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