RNC raids target video activists

by Liliana Segura, AlterNet

"St. Paul is a free country!" cried a resident of Iglehart Avenue, a neighborhood street in St. Paul, Minn., as she watched her next-door neighbor's house being overtaken by police officers on Saturday afternoon. Just one in a series of house raids over a 24-hour period the weekend before the Republican National Convention, St. Paul police surrounded the private home with weapons drawn, detaining people in the backyard, while journalists, activists and neighbors -- including several children -- looked on.

Their crime? None whatsoever. No one was trespassing or engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Instead, members of I-Witness Video, a New York-based media watchdog group that records police activity in order to protect civil liberties, were holding an organizing meeting at 949 Iglehart, the home of St. Paul resident Mike Whalen, when armed police officers arrived in the early afternoon and ordered their surrender.

Among them was Eileen Clancy, founder of I-Witness Video, as well as a producer with Democracy Now! DN! host Amy Goodman and her staff had just arrived at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport when they received word that producer Elizabeth Press was in the house and being threatened with arrest.

An urgent alert had been sent by Clancy:

This is Eileen Clancy. ... The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms …

... We are asking the public to contact the office of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at 651-266-8510 to stop this house arrest, this gross intimidation by police officers, and the detention of media activists and reporters.

By the time we arrived at the 900 block at Iglehart Ave a short while later, the people in the house had been handcuffed and taken out back. Police officers could be seen sitting in unmarked cars, blocking off the residential street, where a growing crowd of observers gathered in front and across the street from the blue house with green columns, straining to get a glimpse of what was happening.

With two officers flanking the entrance of the house, it was hard to see anything -- but moments later, a woman emerged from the house next door. "You guys go in my backyard," she called out. "They're handcuffed back here!" With that, the crowd rushed around to the back, where over a short chain-link fence they spotted the handcuffed group, seated and surrounded by stoic police in sunglasses.

"These are nice people," the neighbor admonished the cops. "These are good people."

article originally published at http://www.alternet.org/rights/97110/?page=entire.

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