The Right To Be Here
Reposted from the Twin Cities IMC, one of the most moving first hand accounts of the RNC protests that I have read.
I'm not an anarchist. At least I wasn't one of the kids running around the Xcel Energy Center in black handkerchiefs during the St Paul RNC. Nor did I store my urine in a bucket for a week to throw on delegates, and I didn't break any windows either. But, I was one of the people detained by police on Monday. One of my co-workers even saw me on the Channel 11 news, zip-tied like a hog, being led away walking backwards by two riot police. I'm assuming that he knew me well enough to reason I wasn't there with violent intent, but asked nonetheless why I went to downtown St Paul that day. I thought about it for a second, but couldn't give a good answer to why I'm now in an FBI database. "I wanted to take pictures" and "I wanted to see it for myself" was what I managed. Then he asked why I was arrested. I had a much clearer answer for that.
After sitting at the entrance gate (which is where I got to see Sean Hannity get yelled at from 5 feet away) and seeing all there was to see, I ventured down to the river walk looking for a route to Harriet Island where a concert was going on. I took that route because it seemed every other way was closed, and the police were directing people down that way. After doddling for a while taking pictures of the coast guard boats with dual M249 mounted machine guns, I continued on until just about by the Wabasha bridge our large group of meandering sight-seers and concert goes were confronted by a huge line of fully geared-up riot police. I'm not trying to say a criminal element was for sure not present in the crowd, but at that spot, at that time there didn't seem to be anything even remotely violent going on. People calmly walked up to the line of officers and asked what was going on, or how they could get around. They were met with unhelpful answers or simple outstretched arms signaling to stand away. I saw it as a photo opportunity. After a few minutes people started to pool by the police line. This seemed to happen naturally as this was one of the only thoroughfares to get around the Excel Energy Center. People were starting to get frustrated and demanding to know what was going on. This is when the full police line started advancing on us, including horse mounted police and officers with non-lethal weapons drawn. I would like to make it clear that at this point there were no directions from officers given to the crowd. There was just a very large slowly moving line coming towards us. At this people stated yelling again, demanding to know what was going on. The line pushed us back maybe a hundred or so yards and stopped, still no directions were given by officers. No order to disperse. So rather dumbfoundly a few hundred people stood around either confused, or yelling questions at police. It then came to the attention of the people standing by me (east closest to Wabasha Bridge) that another line had formed behind us to the west, maybe one hundred yards back. We were literally enclosed by hundreds of riot officers in lines to the east and west, and by the river to the south (don't forget the coast guards) and a few officers filling in the railroad tracks to the north. We were like mooing cattle being corralled. People asked if they could leave only to be told to get back. One of anarchists in the signature black handkerchief started dancing in the street in front of the cops, peacefully I might add. Another photo opportunity. Then things began to feel really bad. Guns were still drawn and still no orders given. I called my girlfriend to let her know what was going on, and that I was scared I may not be going home tonight. While still on the phone with her, an Officer began to yell, "Get down on the ground and put your hands on your head! You're all under arrest for felony conspiracy to commit riot!" My girlfriend heard this over the phone and I can only imagine her response. I promised I'd do what I was told and that I loved her. Then I quickly hung up and put my hands over my head. I won't go into detail, but most, if not everyone I could see from the ground was peacefully complying. I didn't hear any yelling, gunshots or pepper sprayed screaming. Maybe it was because the world seemed to be closing into a very small area immediately surrounding me. I don't know how to describe the feeling that day other than it sucked something very fierce. I don't care who you are, or how much guts you think you have, hundreds of riot cops ready for whatever comes are scary as anything I've ever seen. My arms went numb holding them over my head. Eventually an officer made it over to me. "Are you going to co-operate?" I was asked. I thought, do I have any other choice? I nodded and said yes. I was patted down, zip-tied and told to stand. I was only asked what I had in my pockets. I guess they trusted me enough, and didn't even bother taking out the camera or phone out to make sure they weren't a grenade or something. Being led away walking backwards, zip-tied, facing a felony was the second scariest thing in my life. "Why couldn't I leave? Why couldn't I leave?" I asked to no response. I was feeling humiliated, and worked out other questions. "God, don't you love America." Asking such questions while facing felony charges for simply walking down the street makes you feel a little better. I know this now. Don't ask me why, I can't answer.
I was led over to the curb where others were sitting awaiting processing. The police where actually nice after the initial tension was gone. Me and another detainee joked with the officers holding us. One even loosed my watch for me after it began digging into my cuff. This continued for a while they went down the line taking names, addresses, phone numbers and drivers licenses. By now I was thinking this was really messed up. They had all this information from us, but still had not yet once went through my pockets to verify I didn't have a weapon. When they processed everyone in my small group we were told to stand so we could be cut free and released. We were told this was our lucky day, no charges. At first I felt so relieved that I wasn't charged or held longer, that I almost forgot that I was now in an FBI protester database for sure. As we walked away we were told that if we were caught anywhere downtown in the next week that we would be arrested. As I walked down the railroad tracks, and had a chance to reflect, it was immediately clear to me that the only thing they wanted from most of us was our names and information. I went though the entire ordeal with nothing more actually searched on me than my wallet, and we were never once told to disperse or face arrest.
So I thought about the original question my co-worker asked, "Why did you go down there?" and when the next coworker asked I had a much better answer. Thinking about the huge lines of police and being humiliated on TV, I answered, "Because I had a right to be there." They looked at me like I was an idiot for getting involved. I don't know how to explain that either, but I believe it in my core. I didn't go to protest, or for any other reason but for the right to be there. And the fact that nobody seemed to "get it" made it all the more important. After thinking about it more, that's the scariest thing to me now: You're government can arrest you for walking down the street, and nobody seems to care.
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