Peace Activists Detained at Gunpoint at the RNC
September 3, 2008
Detained at Gunpoint, Peace Activists on ‘Federal Watch List' are released without charge
By Paul Schmelzer
Sometimes you go to the news. Other times, it's vice-versa. Like today. Editing video at a workspace near West 7th Street in St. Paul, I noticed the flash of police lights out the window and grabbed my video camera to see what was going on.
Peering through the window screen, I saw at least eight St. Paul Police and Transit Police cars stopped on the street and officers surrounding a red car, guns drawn. Two women and a man were removed the car, and the man I recognized from the largely peaceful march by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights campaign.
Bald with a moustache, the man was confronting a small group of young people who wore black bandannas across their faces. They were trying to start a "Fuck the police" chant, but he - Hal Muskat, a Veterans for Peace advocate from San Francisco - would have none of it. Emphasizing that the march was a peaceful event, he calmed the young people down, actually getting them to good-humoredly chant "Unfuck the police" instead.
Just two days ago, Muskat was on Democracy Now!, the radio and satellite TV program hosted by Amy Goodman, who herself was detained in St. Paul this week. On the Sept. 1 program, Muskat, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1970, told Goodman he's not fond of John McCain, the star of this week's GOP convention. "I don't trust him. I don't like him," he said. "I don't think he speaks for veterans. I think he speaks for a very small, very - too vocal minority of right-wing veterans that would just as soon McCain said, ‘Vietnam wasn't fought right. We're going back.'"
Lisa Fithian, in a squad car
With him today, en route to the airport where Muscat has an evening flight, was Texas native Lisa Fithian and New Yorker Laurie Arbeiter. The three were handcuffed and taken away in separate squad cars.
When I asked police what was going on, I was told it was a "routine traffic stop" (with drawn guns?), then was asked to turn off my camera (I didn't). Police wouldn't comment further.
Thirty minutes after being hauled off, the trio was returned to their car, which is owned by and licensed to Fithian, who says she's part of the Pagan Cluster, a nonviolent group of people and groups who aim to "bring an earth-based spirituality to global justice and peace actions." She was also involved with Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey" antiwar protest outside the Bush ranch in the summer of 2005, and she was involved in direct actions during the WTO protests of 1999. She's on the National Steering Committee of United for Peace and Justice.
Fithian says the officers were "very aggressive" and that, at first, they wouldn't reveal why they'd been stopped. But finally, when she asked if she was being arrested, an officer told her, "‘Your car has been put on a stop and search list by the federal government,'" she said.
Arbeiter says she's affiliated with The Critical Voice, an organization that produced shirts in six languages that bore the mantra of the Student Resistance Movement, a group of university students who stood up to the Nazis in 1942. She wore the English-language version of the shirt, which had simple white type on black. "They decided enough is enough and they wouldn't be silent," she said.
Referring to onlookers who witnessed the detention, she continued, "Well, these people here need to understand that if [the police] can just pull up and take us away, they can come and get them. They can profile them according to whatever profile they they want to attach to criminality. And we're seeing more and more that that attachment doesn't stick, but they can detain people."
Contacted about the detainments, St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune said individuals who feel they've been improperly treated by police, should carefully document their experiences in writing and, if possible, through photos. The Council is planning on having a post-RNC debriefing with St. Paul police to discuss such complaints.
SOURCE: MINNESOTA INDEPENDANT
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