Points of (non) privilege

Posted at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2008 by Tim Nelson (10 Comments)

There's been some public discussion about the detention of more than a dozen journalists at the end of the protests in St. Paul last night. Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin, AP newswoman Amy Forliti and WCCO photographer Tom Aviles were among the people bottled up on the Marion Street Bridge.

But there's another side to the story that's harder to see. I had tape of the detainees singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" while they sat on the bridge about 11 p.m. last night. The Pioneer Press also published two photos taken, in the dark among the detainees on the bridge, by Thomas Whisenand.

We were both demonstrably there. Why weren't we arrested?

Because last week, the St. Paul police offered the media -- or at least those who showed up to a meeting at the Western District police offices -- the opportunity to accompany the officers among St. Paul's "mobile field force" teams.

We had to sign a waiver holding the city harmless, provide our own transportation and offered no equipment or other protection. The only proviso the city demanded: don't disclose anything until today, so as not to compromise the security of the police operation. We were as free to talk to anyone on the scene as we would have been on any other day in the city.

Commander Joe Neuberger -- commander of the officers in the field -- said last week that the idea was against his better judgement, but that police administration had decided to open their operation as much as possible to trained scrutiny.

St. Paul police Sgt. Linda Wilson told me yesterday, as I climbed in my pickup to trail along, that they'd been accompanied by reporters every single day of the convention. Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried and photographer Thomas Whisenand were among them last night. They followed a team separate from the "platoon" to which I was assigned.

I found it to be a dicey situation. Riot police are trained to keep civilians out of their ranks and there were some tense moments when I found myself standing amid officers from other agencies who were not conscious of St. Paul's arrangement, possibly because they hadn't been told, or because of the chaos at the scene.

I was variously ordered to get down and to leave immediately. I was inadvertantly struck by pepper spray and by "stinger balls" from an explosive thrown at my feet. But per our agreement, I was never forced to leave the scene.

I don't know the exact count of journalists detained. I heard numbers last night as high as 18. I did see some people with credentials issued by the Republican National Convention among the handcuffed detainees. But I also saw people with handmade "media" insignia and several students claiming to be with a college paper in Iowa.

But I would venture to say that journalists employed by local media outlets that were allowed into the midst of the police may have approached the number that were detained by authorities at any time during the convention.

One more thing: the Joint Information Center issued this statement below at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, no doubt a follow-up to similar directions given explicitly to the media by authorities at the scene of Tuesday night's unrest in front of Mickey's Diner.

I don't know how to define the journalistic equivalent of caveat emptor, but I know it when I see it.


(Saint Paul, Minnesota) - Law enforcement responsible for security and public safety in the Twin Cities area would like to remind members of the media of the proper procedures for staying safe during unlawful assemblies. When police officials request the breakup of an unlawful assembly by announcement to the gathered crowd, that order applies to all individuals, including the media. A quick and orderly dispersal is more likely to help people, including media personnel, stay safe and avoid arrest.

Because still cameras, video cameras and other recording equipment are commonplace at large events or gatherings, it can be difficult for law enforcement and others to differentiate between credentialed media, un-credentialed media or others who may carry similar equipment. While law enforcement in no way wishes to restrict First Amendment rights, members of the press must also follow police orders to protect their safety, the safety of police and others.


One MPR reporter was able to avoid being arrested, even after they expected they would be arrested. She approached the nearest officer with their credential held high, and ask politely, which direction they should go. It took a few requests before an officer stepped from holding them behind the line, but they then indicated they could pass.

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Fun for the whole family

Posted at 7:36 PM on September 4, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

MPR's Melody Ng (of Melody's Olympics fame) wrote this post on what to do with the kids and pets when protesting:

"Who would bring their kids to a protest???!" One of our colleagues was outraged at seeing parents pushing strollers past police in riot gear on Monday and Tuesday. Not a big deal--some might say an educational, family experience, even--during a peace march. But what about after one's seen photos of tear gas clouds?

Today during the Youth Against War and Racism's "March to Arrest the War Criminals" (the rally for which high school and college students were supposed to walk out of class), we watched a Saint Bernard on leash loll past our building, just behind the chanting students.

So what's proper protest protocol? When do you decide to leave the pets and kids at home?

The RNC Welcoming Committee, the anarchist group that we've been hearing about all week as they go about the mission of "crash[ing] the convention," seems to have thought through the kid safety issue. Its Web site seeks volunteer childcare providers during the RNC. It also reassures "radical parents" that they can protest away (from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when the childcare center is open), confident in the knowledge that their kids are under the care of people with "significant childcare experience," have plenty of "child-friendly, outdoor space," and are noshing on "vegetarian or vegan food and organic milk." Parents are just supposed to pre-register so organizers know how many kids to expect.

And apparently some parents have taken advantage of this offer. The person who answered the phone for the RNC Welcoming Committee just now (he said he couldn't give me his name) said at any given time one to about six kids, ages 2-6, are on site with several volunteers looking after them.

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UPDATE: Protesters heading back towards Capitol

Posted at 6:06 PM on September 4, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

The police have announced that those gathered at the Capitol for the Anti-War Committee protest will be part of an "unlawful assembly" if they stay past 5 p.m. when their permit expires.

The protesters have now started marching and their intent is to get to the Xcel Energy Center. They do not have a permit to do so, but they will keep going until the police stop them, MPR reporter Sea Stachura reports.

UPDATE (5:08 p.m.)
:The march has now stopped on John Ireland over I-94 as police on horseback and on foot are blocking the way.

UPDATE (5:18 p.m.):The march has now turned into a sit-in on the John Ireland bridge.

UPDATE (5:38 p.m.): Sea Stachura sends in this picture of the scene on the bridge:


UPDATE (6:05 p.m.): The protesters have taken a vote and are now heading back the way they came.

UPDATE (6:22 p.m.):Protesters now at 12th and Cedar. Police have blocked off Cedar with dump trucks to prevent the protesters from coming south on Cedar.

UPDATE (6:42 p.m.): Police on horseback are moving the crowd west on 12th St.

UPDATE (7:20 p.m.): Mounted police have left. The situation seems calm, but cops and protesters are still not dispersing.

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St. Paul businesses closing early?

Posted at 3:23 PM on September 4, 2008 by Molly Bloom (1 Comments)

I spoke with Andrea Shackelford at the Caribou Coffee in Town Square (in the skyway) and she told us that they spoke with cops today who recommended that Caribou close early. She says that the police are concerned about the protests scheduled for later this afternoon.

James Lockwood from the Joint Information Center says that no official orders or requests for businesses to close early have been made by the Police Department, but it's possible that officers have had informal conversations with businesses.

TCF Bank, also in the skyway, has closed early. I will update if we find any other businesses doing so. Have you encountered any businesses in downtown St. Paul closing early?

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Can't find your credentials?

Posted at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

They just might have fallen into the hands of protesters. MPR reporter Laura Yuen sends in this tidbit:

During the convention Wednesday night, two protesters believed to be with the anti-war group Code Pink were escorted out of the Xcel Energy Center after heckling the speakers.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said they had the proper credentials to get onto the convention floor. "They were dressed pretty much like all the rest of the convention-goers there," he said.

But after getting inside the center, Harrington said they changed out of their black dresses and into their outfits, "which I believe were pink." He said officers escorted the protesters off the grounds but did not make any arrests. He did not know how the hecklers obtained the RNC credentials, which he said were apparently legitimate.

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What to do in MSP when it's the last day of the RNC

Posted at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

Today is the last day of the Republican National Convention, which also means time is running out to partake in any convention week fun.

Here are some of your options:

Ralph Nader Super Rally at Orchestra Hall Their website says that musician Nellie McKay will perform, Nader himself will speak as will Jesse Ventura. After making an appearance at Ron Paul's rally yesterday, Ventura shows he's comfortable on both the left and the right.

Youth Against War and Racism march: Students are walking out of class right now in order to attend this afternoon's march starting at the Capitol.

The UnConvention American Politics Sideshow : Lectures, prizes, reenactments, music and hula hoops. You can check out the sideshow at the Weisman Art Museum until 9 p.m.

Stay out until 4. a.m.: Tonight's your last chance to stay out drinking until the wee hours of the next morning. Some of your options include The Local, Aqua, The Liffey and The Happy Gnome.

What other fun are you going to have on the RNC's last day in town?

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Raging against the machine

Posted at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2008 by Tim Nelson (0 Comments)

More than 100 people were arrested in Minneapolis last night after a Rage Against the Machine concert at Target Center.

It had a bit of a familiar ring to it. The Poor People's Economic Human Rights March through downtown St. Paul was a pretty subdued affair until the impromptu Rage Against the Machine appearance on the Capitol mall ended and the crowd decided to hook up with the parade.

20070314_tom_morello.jpgThe guitarist for RATM, Tom Morello, is no stranger to politics, though. He's got his own political movement, of sorts: the Axis of Justice. The video from the Web site over there is an interesting glimpse into what was going on in St. Paul on Tuesday night before the crowd got all downtown, as it were.

You can also find out more about Morello performing as his current political alter-ego, The Night Watchman, right here. (In the interest of full disclosure, both my kids can sing his "One Man Revolution" by heart.)

"This generation needs new songs of protest," he says of his work, a good measure of it on a Woody Guthrie-esque acoustic guitar.

The Current's Steve Seel did an interview with Morello at last year's South by Southwest show, and the RATM front man explains that politics are part and parcel of his work. You can hear that here.

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The Usual Suspects

Posted at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2008 by Tim Nelson (1 Comments)

I've spent much of the last couple of days out on the streets, watching protests and police and politics and Atzec dances and impromptu gymnastics and Lord only knows what else.

For the most part, it's all theater. Everybody seems to know their lines, step to the front of the stage and say them on cue, then retreat for the next act.

But there are have been a couple of things that really struck me.

circlephone2.jpgI noticed this during a press conference held by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign this morning. It was on the ankle of a Deborah Hollingsworth, the occasionally strident spokeswoman for something called the "Pagan Cluster."

(The guy in the pink shirt getting arrested in Mears Park yesterday was reportedly one of their members, followed quickly by what was later identified as his copiuosly weeping girlfriend who was trying to reach him through the police lines.)

Anyway, I didn't get a chance to ask Hollingsworth about it, but it looks like it might be a phone number on her leg, and maybe the word "dad" after it. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I was trying to manage a balky field tape setup and catch someone else at the press conference, so I didn't have a chance to ask her about what seemed like a tiny detail before she left.

But now the thought of it kind of brings me up short. God forbid anyone would have to copy this number off her ankle and dial it, if that's what it is. It just gives me a catch in my throat to look at it. Several people know me as "dad," too.

For all the boilerplate affidavit language in court documents, the clinical details of "planning and committing criminal acts during the RNC," you occasionally lose sight of the fact that a lot of these are very young people; the dear, dear daughters and sons of people who are might be watching this convention with more anxiety than any Sheriff's investigator can muster.

line.jpgThat's the other thing that struck me. I know a few of the wives, husbands, kids and parents of all those people in the turtle suits and on the police bicycles. I can imagine them, too, flipping from channel to channel, looking for a familiar detail -- a flash of a ponytail under a riot helmet, a ring on an ungloved baton hand, some telling assurance that lets them know their loved one is up and walking around.

This may be a national convention and there may be people from all over the world in town and watching it. But as I was walking down the police line on Monday, I found many a familiar face, people I've come to know after working for almost 20 years in St. Paul.

I stopped to talk to one riot-helmeted officer in the line recently -- he lives a few doors down from me in St. Paul We often greet each other as we pass in the street, and I'm more familiar with him in his casual clothes: in a pair of jeans and running shoes, maybe, and likely as not walking down the sidewalk with his dog.

Godspeed to you, too, Bob. We're all looking forward to having you safely back in the neighborhood.

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Music to protest by

Posted at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2008 by Molly Bloom (1 Comments)

Free live music is plentiful in the Twin Cities during the RNC -- and much of it with a political flavor. Yesterday's Ripple Effect concert at the Capitol featured the Orthodox Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu, local female hip hop artist Indigo and Michael Franti.

The SEIU Labor Day Festival on Harriet Island showcased some big name acts including Mos Def, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and local hip hop stars Atmosphere.

As part of their Electorate Fetus event, the Electric Fetus is hosting a series of free performances by local artists, including Chris Koza and Romantica.

The marches over the last two days have also featured their own musical accompaniment. Songs overheard by MPR reporters at the events:

"Paper Planes" - M.I.A.
"Holiday in Cambodia" - The Dead Kennedys
"Guarantees" - Atmosphere
"Bulls on Parade" - Rage Against the Machine
A dance remix of Madonna's "Like a Virgin"

And, of course, crowd renditions of "We Shall Overcome" and "Give Peace a Chance."

What songs did you hear at the marches? And what other free music are you planning to check out this week?

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Bushville in 360

Posted at 9:57 AM on September 3, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

MPR reporter Tim Nelson is currently stationed at Bushville -- the encampment of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. It's located at Western Avenue and Central Ave in St. Paul.

Here's the scene at the camp:

Panorama of BUSHVILLE on CleVR.com

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The march gets moving

Posted at 6:22 PM on September 2, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)


MPR reporter Tim Nelson took this picture from the back of the "March for Our Lives." The group (pictured here at 7th and Wacouta) is heading west on 7th Street from Mears Park toward the Xcel Energy Center.

Before the march got moving there was a skirmish between police and protesters at Mears Park where the group was gathering before the march.

At least three people were taken into custody and pepper spray was used on a small contingent of marchers who veered out of the park into the intersection.

Tim says that the organizers had forgotten to get the electricity turned on. While they were trying to get the juice going, tensions grew high as people stood around and waited.

But the march is moving along peacefully...for now.

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Blessing at Mears Park

Posted at 5:25 PM on September 2, 2008 by Molly Bloom (0 Comments)

MPR reporter Tim Nelson is out at Mears Park where people are gathering for The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign's "March for Our Lives."

The march itself hasn't started yet, but the festivities are well under way.

Tim sent along these pictures of a Mexican blessing ceremony:

Idalia Robles.jpgAbove, Idalia Robles takes part in the ceremony. And below, two girls dance as part of the blessing ceremony.

two girls.jpgBelow, Susana de Leon before the ceremony.

susana de leon.jpg

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Another skirmish coming?

Posted at 5:12 PM on September 2, 2008 by Molly Bloom (1 Comments)

Our reporter monitoring police communications hears that cops are staging themselves on the west side of Sibley, trying to keep people from getting into downtown from the West. They are trying to "remain proactive about keeping people from entering downtown" during the rally scheduled at 4 p.m.

There are also reports of a group of protesters at the parking lot between United Hospital and Kellogg. They are reportedly doing "counter-surveillance" and getting the lay of the land.

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Posted at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2008 by Molly Bloom (1 Comments)

MPR reporter Paul Tosto sends in this report:

At a press conference this morning, the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign promised celebrities for the afternoon march scheduled for 4 p.m. and that the celebrities would be prepared to go to jail if need be.

But as celebrities go, we're not talking Jane Fonda. Those initially listed included Rosario Dawson, John Ritter and Mark Webber.

Dawson's not bad, with Rent, He Got Game and Clerks II to her credit. But we were also told this morning she may not make it. John Ritter, star of the old Three's Company sitcom, died in 2003. We were told his son Jason Ritter will actually be the celebrity. Webber is a Minneapolis born actor whose biography notes he was once homeless and is now an advocate for the homeless.

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First eight arraignments

Posted at 11:09 AM on September 2, 2008 by Tim Nelson (0 Comments)

Here's the starting lineup for the RNC arraignments. These are the only eight names listed on the calendar for Ramsey County District Court judge J. Thomas Mott, and he's handling the RNC-related arrests. The docket doesn't say where or when or under what circumstances these arrests were made, but last week's arrests were made in Minneapolis. This is a tiny fraction of the people arrested, but if it's any indication of the rest of the detainees, they're 1) young guys and 2) not from around here.

1. Nathan Andrews Runals, 6/13/1988, Middleville, MI
Charge: Presence at unlawful assembly

2. Joseph Luis Sanchez, 8/29/1985, no address
Charge: Presence at unlawful assembly

3. Jiro Kanno, 6/25/1981, Chicago, IL
Charge: Disorderly conduct

4. Brandon David Bowser, 9/25/1985, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Charge: Presence at unlawful assembly

5. Stephen Matthew Goodman, 8/27/1984, New York, NY
Charge: Obstructing legal process, disorderly conduct, traffic obstruction

6. Timothy John Clifford, 12/28/1984, MA
Charge: Disorderly conduct, obstructing legal process, presence at unlawful assembly

7. Hannibal Cameron Cook, 8/6/1990, Rochester, MN
Charge: Presence at unlawful assembly

8. Brian Christopher Brown, 10/28/1986, Itasca, IL
Charge: Presence at unlawful assembly

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