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(en) US, Tweencities, MEDIA, RNC Massive show of force fits the trend

Date Sun, 07 Sep 2008 12:22:46 +0300



Police held protesters at bay during a disturbance at Mears Park in St. Paul,
where four were arrested. In all, there were 818 arrests in St. Paul and
Minneapolis, and there were 3,700 police on the street during the four-day
convention. ---- Aggressive riot police is a sign of the times, security
officials say, but some say free speech is at stake. ---- The huge deployment of
police in full riot gear across St. Paul this week may have unsettled the
locals, but it is neither unprecedented nor even unusual in an era in which
cities and nations crank up law enforcement operations in the face of mass
protests and the possibility of terrorism.

"There's been a securitization of major political events," said Joseph Peschek,
professor of political science at Hamline University.

With 3,700 police on the streets and 818 arrests in St. Paul and Minneapolis,
including preemptive raids of alleged anarchists' activities, the Republican
National Convention went off with few hitches at the Xcel Energy Center. The
anarchists were unable to carry out their threats to shut down the convention.

While there have been widespread accusations of police overzealousness,
including a demand Friday by Amnesty International's Washington office for a
full-scale investigation, local officials insist they acted appropriately.

"What you have in St. Paul is a very successful event and that is what everyone
wants to be able to say at the end," said John Firman, director of research for
the International Association of Chiefs of Police, headquartered in Virginia.

Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom said authorities knew of the likely presence
of anarchist groups.

In these times, he said, citing the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World
Trade Organization as an example, government has no choice but to build massive
security operations.

And Bostrom, who along with the Secret Service helped craft the RNC security
plan, sees no end to such planning: "Until the anarchists change their methods
... it's probably the only way [to do this]."

Free speech undermined?

While the convention is over, the debate over security continues to reverberate.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has threatened a lawsuit over
allegations that many people were unjustly arrested.

The ACLU says such shows of force stymie free speech.
"Attempts by law enforcement to squelch lawful political speech and stifle the
press have no place in our democracy and are unacceptable," Anthony D. Romero,
ACLU executive director, said in a statement. "Political conventions should be a
showcase for free expression, not a venue for bullying and intimidation."

For its on-street security operation, St. Paul found no single model to co-opt,
Bostrom said. So it grabbed the best ideas from the Department of Homeland
Security and other U.S. and European cities.

The end result, he said, was a crowd-control strategy based on mobile field
force units, officers moving about subtly "in soccer-mom minivans" and -- police
officials had hoped -- "soft uniforms." But they also had riot gear.

Cities have spent tremendous amounts of money on security for such events, says
Luis Fernandez, an assistant professor of criminology at Northern Arizona
University and author of "Policing Dissent."

Fernandez said police are overdoing it, by conflating two problems, terrorism
and the activity of anarchists, which he says is an "overblown threat."

"The assumption is they are a really dangerous group," he said. "I have yet to
see the real danger. ... We have not seen bomb making, we have not seen throwing
Molotov cocktails, we have not seen people being kidnapped."

There were, however, two individuals in St. Paul who were charged Friday with
illegal possession of Molotov cocktails. Another man appeared in court Tuesday
on the same charge.

$50 million operation

St. Paul and Denver each received $50 million in federal funds for policing the
conventions.

Tony Bouza, former Minneapolis police chief, said he thinks St. Paul could have
handled the security with a few hundred extra police officers. "The only reason
they did it was an orgy of overtime, subsidized by the United States government
under the National Security Act," he said.

While he believes authorities did an excellent job of infiltrating the anarchist
groups, he said St. Paul's expenses were far too high to monitor roughly 100
anarchists.

Most of the protesters, he said, including those who engaged in peaceful civil
disobedience are "patriots ... they are the ones fighting for the Constitution."
There's general agreement that the watershed event was the 1999 Seattle
protests. Because of inadequate planning, the city was brought to a standstill
for two days, causing the Seattle police chief to resign and the mayor to lose
reelection.

D.C. chief changed the game

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey -- who collaborated
with multiple law enforcement agencies to take advantage of their expertise,
their resources and their numbers -- was widely hailed for avoiding any problems
when demonstrators came to protest meetings of the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund in 2000.

The lesson, said Bouza, is that while Stamper lost his job, "Ramsey turned the
place into a garrison state and nothing happened."

Firman, of the police chiefs association, said police learn from mistakes and it
would be far worse to be under-prepared or understaffed.

"Very rarely do you read news stories about what went right," he said. "It's
much more fun to do stories about what went wrong."

Staff researcher John Wareham contributed to this article. Randy Furst •
612-673-7382 Anthony Lonetree • 651-298-1545
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