Our lovely comrades at the Earth First! Journal will be publishing this article in the next edition of the journal, but keep reading to get a sneak preview of our most recent updates and analyses!
The one year anniversary of the Republican National Convention is quickly approaching. Despite having faded from the national headlines, the RNC and its’ aftermath still define much of daily life for the radical community here in the Twin Cities. The people who have been targeted by state repression and prosecution, along with their supporters, carry on the fight that was sparked by riot police last August. Twenty-four people (including the RNC8) are still being prosecuted in Ramsey County, and until their charges are dropped and state repression ends, the RNC will remain ever-present here in Minnesota.
The court solidarity strategy that was formed in the hectic days immediately following the RNC has been one of the most effective community responses to mass arrest in recent memory. The best defense against state repression is a collective one, and arrestees organized to fight their charges en masse. This strategy has succeeded in tying up the court system and forcing the state to drop large numbers of cases against protestors. In connection with the RNC8 Defense Committee, the Community RNC Arrestee Support Structure (CRASS) coalition was created to help coordinate legal support and court solidarity. Mass community meetings, lawsuits, the creation and maintaining of internet archives, and rummage sale fundraisers have been a few of the varied forms that support work has taken over the past year. And though there is much yet to be done, there can be no doubt that we are winning.
Of the 818 people arrested during the convention, only one person has been successfully convicted at trial. In addition, seventy-four people have been forced into plea deals or taken bench warrants. In spite of these losses, an incredible 90% of RNC arrestees have been acquitted, had their charges dismissed, or were never prosecuted. All the cases in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) have been resolved without any convictions because there is absolutely no evidence to justify the mass arrests. In addition, the terrorism charges against the RNC8 were dropped as a result of community pressure aimed at County Attorney Susan Gaertner. Arrestees and supporters should take full credit for the victories thus far, since they certainly did not result from goodness in the hearts of the prosecutors.
The abysmal failure of prosecutorial efforts has pushed the state into new strategies of judicial repression. Politicians and bureaucrats (many of whose careers are riding on their affiliation with the RNC) are desperately seeking to justify the $50 million in federal funds that was spent on RNC policing. Since they can barely seem to convict anyone, malicious prosecution, scapegoating, and retaliatory charges have become favored strategies of the local court system.
The prosecution openly seeks to “make an example” out of the felony defendants whose alleged acts of property destruction have been described by the whitewash Heffelfinger-Luger Report as “the most frightening moment(s) of the convention.” Of course, such statements overlook the pre-emptive raids, state-sponsored shutdown of downtown, and hundreds of brutal injuries caused by police. In addition, this attempted vilification of felony defendants seeks to draw lines between “good” and “bad” protestors and to weaken our solidarity. We will not, however, give up on our friends and comrades who are facing the brunt of RNC-related judicial targeting.
Of the twenty-one felony defendants originally charged, two cases have been dropped and one person has been convicted for the unarrest incident from Sept. 1st. This conviction is currently being appealed. As this article is being written, the RNC support community holds its breath in anticipation of the trial of our friend and CRASS member Jesse James Forrey, whose trial is set to begin on August 3rd. Milwaukee co-defendants Christina Vana and Karen Meissner have a trial date set for the end of August. Their co-defendant David Mahoney is currently serving a sentence from a plea deal he took in order to return home to his native England, and is set to be released back to his friends and family on Sept. 2nd. In addition, Matt DePalma, Bradley Crowder, and David McKay are three defendants who each took guilty pleas in high profile federal trials involving Molotov cocktails and FBI informants. All three are currently serving federal sentences. Bradley Crowder is facing additional state charges for a separate incident.
The case of the RNC8 highlights the vindictive prosecutorial efforts of Susan Gaertner’s, who is running for Minnesota Governor and whose political ambitions are closely tied to her image as a successful County Attorney. Her efforts to criminalize Welcoming Committee organizers as the supposed masterminds of RNC protests again attempt to fracture and factionalize community solidarity. By dropping the terrorism charges against the 8, Gaertner has sought to reduce media attention and community pressure surrounding the case. However, people in the Twin Cities and across the United States remain strongly behind the co-defendants and regularly attend Gaertner’s public events to remind her of our opposition against her attempts at thoughtcrime prosecution.
One of the most difficult challenges of our court solidarity strategy stems from the very nature of the “justice” system. This slow moving process is designed to force people into accepting plea deals by wearing them down with endless court dates and a “trial call” system which requires you to be on two-hour notice for weeks at a time. The financial and emotional effects of this structure have been particularly difficult for out-of-town arrestees, many of whom have had to move here in order to fight their cases. The RNC prosecutors have deliberately dragged out the cases of arrestees in order to eke out the pleas that they would not otherwise be able to acquire. One arrestee flew up from Miami six times to fight a simple misdemeanor before he eventually was unable to return and had to take a plea. CRASS’s travel fund, which pays for arrestee plane tickets, has helped ameliorate this situation, but this has nonetheless been the most difficult hurdle for coordinating effective court solidarity and helping people fight their charges.
In an obvious effort to cover their asses against future lawsuits, in June the city of St. Paul filed criminal charges against four additional people. One of these, Elliot Hughes, was beaten by sheriff’s deputies in the Ramsey County jail while incarcerated, and his case has attracted media attention and been a thorn in the side of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. These defendants had previously signaled to the city their intent to sue over their treatment during the RNC. If any of them are found guilty or plea to a criminal charge, it will be difficult if not impossible for them to successfully pursue their claims against the state. These retaliatory charges seek to discourage others from filing civil suits, and are obviously motivated by the fear of people pushing back against the city, county, and cops.
Civil litigation efforts are in full swing. After a very successful Mardi Gras action in which sixty-five Notices of Claim (forms indicating intent to sue) were filed against St. Paul, city attorney John Choi was overheard complaining that “things couldn’t be worse” for his office. Since then, legal workers and attorneys have been setting up the necessary framework to make the city pay. Group claims for several of the mass arrests are being coordinated by local attorneys, and individual suits have been filed already, including a suit against the Sheriff’s office for the Aug. 29 convergence space raid. In addition to getting money for the movement, civil litigation seeks to make connections to systemic issues of police violence and to change the narrative of what happened in the streets during the convention.
Certainly, civil litigation is not a solution to state violence, nor will it protect us in the streets or give us back the time and energy that has been stolen from us while we fight to keep ourselves and our friends out of jail. Nonetheless, suing the state effectively hits the city bureaucrats where it hurts them most– their coffers and their careers. Lawsuits from previous mass mobilizations such as Seattle and Los Angeles have succeed in wresting millions of dollars from the state’s insurance companies and have changed policing practices in many cities. In addition, local despots like Bob Fletcher can lose their power and paychecks from successful lawsuits. Civil litigation is one of a variety of strategies that we are using to push back against those who would have us imprisoned in jails and “free speech zones”.
The ongoing militarization of the Twin Cities that was enabled by the delegates’ arrival remains the untold aftermath of the Republican National Convention. Police brutality continues unchecked as they turn their RNC weaponry and crowd control devices onto the low income and people of color communities of our cities. Our work must always make connections to the everyday faces of police violence and state repression, and we have begun to engage in these struggles through coalition work with local anti-police violence organizers. However, to our detriment, we have not been able to achieve this on the scale needed to effectively fight against systemic white supremacy and classism.
In addition, we seek to connect our struggles to those of political prisoners elsewhere. The parallels between the RNC8 and Green Scare conspiracy defendants highlight the nationwide commonalities of the state’s repressive campaigns against political organizers and activists. We are privileged to have both local and national support for our struggles, which allow us the energy and resources to fight back as effectively as we have been able to thus far. Many people who face similar state targeting do not have such support structures, and we hope that the resources and knowledge of RNC legal support will spread to future situations of community defense and solidarity.
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Bob Fletcher Sucks!
c/o Coldsnap Legal Collective
PO Box 50514
Minneapolis, MN 55405