Saturday, September 06, 2008

RNC in St. Paul: "a practice run in implementing martial law"

Unfortunately, at this point I've become accustomed to hearing about the escalating level of police brutality against protesters. But I'm still shocked about the scope of police and "law enforcement" violence at the RNC. It's stunning to watch potential Blackwater employees pull someone aside for detention, to hear of teargas and rubber bullets used against protesters, to see horrifying strong-arm tactics against reporters, or to listen to a sheriff proudly describe year-long counterinsurgency efforts against nonviolent political protesters.

But now I'm beside myself after hearing Elliot Hughes describe what can only be categorized as torture while being detained at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, Minnesota (and while in the hospital!). Hughes was riding his bike alongside a small protest of what looks like about 50 people marching in the street, followed by an equal number of police, when a police officer, also on bicycle, ran into him. After getting up from the ground, Hughes was tackled by numerous officers, taken to jail, and subjected to the kind of treatment familiar to those of us who follow US military violence in colonial incursions around the world. In this country, this kind of horrifying treatment is generally reserved for those considered human garbage or threats to conventional standards of decency: homeless people,people of color, people perceived as undocumented immigrants, sex workers, trans people and others not gendered "correctly," as well as people considered mentally or physically “impaired” -- and now I'm beginning to think that the monstrous powers-that-be are succeeding at moving protesters into the category of those who can be brutalized with impunity, especially if these protesters identify as (or are even perceived as) anarchists.

While in police custody, 19-year-old Elliot Hughes fainted due to lack of food, and began convulsing and coughing up blood. Police responded by saying that he was faking it, or "being bulimic." A prison doctor told Hughes that he had a bruised rib and that coughing up blood was “normal.” Hughes was repeatedly denied food, put in solitary confinement, and then when he demanded something to eat, he was punched in the face by an officer and knocked unconscious. The officer then brought Hughes back to consciousness by slamming his head on the ground, resulting in a pool of Hughes’ blood on the floor. Officers then put some sort of device consisting of a translucent plastic bag over Hughes's head, with a gag over his mouth, and used pain compliance torture tactics by pressing deep into the nerves and tendons between jaw and neck while wrapping one of Hughes's leg around his back. As Hughes was screaming and crying for help or an end to the pain, the officers would press harder, and when Hughes screamed for God or anyone to help him, one of the officers, clearly aware of this horror movie enactment, said "there’s no God here, we are all devils."

Hughes was eventually taken to a detention cell inside Regency Hospital, with no knowledge of where he was going and the bag still over his head after his recent concussion. He couldn't see, and was nauseous from the bruising to his brain, and started vomiting in the bag while it was over his head. Officers refused to remove the bag or to do anything for Hughes's wounds for several hours while he screamed for help. When Hughes eventually became quiet, officers paraded him through the halls of the hospital, handcuffed with the bag over his head, vomit and blood everywhere. After Hughes was examined and treated by a doctor, he was taken back to the hospital cell, where the air-conditioning was turned up and he sat there shivering until eventually he was taken back to jail, strip-searched and held overnight until eventually released.

There are so many layers to the horror of this hideous and appalling treatment, but I need to pause for a moment to wonder about this holding cell at Regency Hospital -- of course I'm aware of the ways the medical industry is complicit with corporate profiteers of all sorts, but I do wonder what was going on inside the hospital as Elliot Hughes screamed for several hours for help. Was the hospital holding cell soundproof? And what about when Hughes was marched through the halls with a plastic bag over his head -- is that common treatment for patients? I wonder what hospitals need to do in order for prison officials to allow them to treat brutalized inmates, and cannot, unsurprisingly, find any information at the Regency Hospital website.

It's amazing and inspiring to see Elliot Hughes talking so clearly, carefully, and eloquently about his torture, immediately after his release from jail. Obviously he is traumatized, and yet he is still speaking out. Like so many of us, he's trying to exist in the world in an ethical way, trying to challenge this horrifying imperialist system we're living under, and he's now bearing the costs. The costs for biking down the street during a protest, mind you -- what is next?

I keep hearing, over and over again, about the brutality of "the Republicans," but everyone should pause for a moment to remember that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are some of the most liberal metropolises in the country, with Democratic mayors, and I'm guessing Democratic officials at the head of almost every city agency. The police violence at the RNC is, as Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein describes it, "a bipartisan expansion of police power and crackdown on the First Amendment."

I highly recommend listening to the September 5 segment of the always-brilliant Flashpoints, where Elliot Hughes describes his torture in more detail, and where American Indian Movement activist Bill Means speculates that the police state tactics in Minneapolis and St. Paul are "a practice run in implementing martial law."

Thank you, Elliot, for your bravery.


BECK said...

how was your day?
i liked your blog
you are fantastic!!!

really nice blog
fabulous fantastic
take care
see you

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Well, my day just got better-- so glad you like the blog!!!!


Hilary Goldberg said...

I think it is that combination of the privatized prison industry combined with the privatized agencies now running law enforcement without public accountability that grants excessive force as a tactical measure for subduing "terror" under the Patriot Act. And in response to the Republicans vs liberal city of St. thing that became a catch phrase was "this was a national security event". I kept hearing that and it seems that the secret service are the ones ripping credentials from around Amy Goodman and her bloodied producers necks. Once torture became permissible abroad, and you have private agencies like Blackwater running the show, public officials are meaningless. There is no accountability. And how are we supposed to make a change when we are living with some kind of permit only protests to show resistance to this agenda or face the consequence of police brutality?

I'll cut myself short here and simply ask, How is it that Elliot is not a front page news story in every paper?
I suppose the "free" indie press was too busy being detained and jailed and threatened with rubber bullets, grenades, and smoke bombs to properly document the story. And the mainstream media only cares when that happens in connection with the Middle East.

The Ramsey justification for Hughes' treatment was that he was "disruptive" in jail. So sure, putting a gag and a bag over someone's head and splitting their jaw and twisting their foot in the wrong direction is an obvious response.

And if that Regency Hospital is anything like a mental ward, than it doesn't surprise me that no one did anything when someone was being tortured. That's the day to day in that field.

So what's next? How do we protest and resist in a country that sees us as the minority fringe? In a country that wants "this"?

The ICE raids (are awful as a stand alone occurrence) but are also a practice run of martial law, the detainment facilities and raids and treatment of human beings. All of this is useful in preparing to tackle so called "enemies of the state". If they can take official press credentials from around someone's neck, pick up a kid riding his bike, there really is nothing to stop the future of large scale lock downs for anyone in opposition to this power expansion. This is it, I think, the last moments for public outcry against the Patriot Act that grants this lack of accountability before we are silenced by threat of imprisonment. I'm not sure how long the last moments will endure, but the Patriot Act is the thing that is our demise. The orders in St. Paul came from on high, that was clear in the I Witness documentation piece, and that's why it doesn't matter how liberal a city may be prior to the appearance of "national security". We saw it with Katrina and we see it again, another natural disaster.

Sorry this is so long, but that was an intense post.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hilary, thank you for such brilliant analysis!

You're right about that "privatized prison industry combined with the privatized agencies now running law enforcement without public accountability," and what are the possibilities for the resistance?

And hospitals'/healthcare industry complicity with these same systems of violence...

And yes, "How do we protest and resist in a country that sees us as the minority fringe? In a country that wants "this"?"

And yes yes yes, thank you for making the connection with the ICE
raids as another practice run and martial law and large-scale silencing of dissent and self-expression and just about everything else...

"I'm not sure how long the last moments will endure," the last moments for public resistance before????

Love --

Hilary Goldberg said...

Sorry incomplete thought, last moments before there isn't an opportunity to have a voice of opposition without threat of internment/ being marked as an enemy of the state (though that moment has already arrived for some) I'm just looking to past references of fascist states and when they lock up and lock down communications and communicators and there is silence. I think there is a window of public outcry about the Patriot Act in action, seeing what it looks like in a microcosm of St. Paul, and as well with Blackwater in Katria, and saying NO absolutely unacceptable. The fact that our press had machine guns in their faces (I Witness news team) is not a good sign. I guess I'm just thinking forward to when I might hit post on publishing this comment and then my door is busted in. The last moments before that kind of thing.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hilary, no no no you were totally clear -- I was just asking a rhetorical question, but now you are even clearer:

"I guess I'm just thinking forward to when I might hit post on publishing this comment and then my door is busted in. The last moments before that kind of thing."

Love --

Hilary Goldberg said...

I'm reading So Many Ways To Sleep Badly, one thing that is striking, mind the pun, is the part in front of the LGBT Center during Newsom's visit when our queer protagonists get brutalized and imprisoned by police and the chorus sings : it's not worth it.

Flash forward and I wonder if that isn't what people are thinking/saying as they see coverage like Elliot (granted he was just on his bicycle).

I can't tell if I am freaking out because things are worse than ever before or if it has always been like this? How do you feel about that? Do you sense a difference or sense of urgency? Or is this feeling the same to you?

okay enough commentary from me today.
love hil

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hilary, interesting comparison -- that part in So Many Ways (as it was in the actual incident that inspired it) is even more ironic because the people who are saying "it's not worth it" are the ones making it safe for the police to do the bashing.

I do think that people are scared of expressing dissent because of the increasingly violent and repressive tactics of law enforcement officials, and I also think the randomness of some of that violence is itself a tactic of repression.

As far as whether things are getting worse, in the nightmare of gay assimilation the answer is absolutely, worse and worse!

As for police state tyranny in general, I think what's changing is the widening of the scope of surveillance and repression, and the expansion of who is targeted.

Thanks for all of your analysis!

Love --

Lisa Harney said...

I wanted to say stuff, but I can't add much to the conversation here.

I do think things are getting worse. For a bit I was wondering if the increased police brutality was the result of increased reporting via cell phone cameras and the like or actual instances - but now I think it's both.

And what happened in St. Paul is a message.

Will repost this, though.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Lisa, another thing I'm thinking is the way in which law enforcement thugs seem to operate with more and more impunity, which has long been the case with rampant on-the-street violence against people of color, but now also seems to be the case for violence against activists at protests...

And thanks for reposting!

Love --

Lisa Harney said...

True, I was meaning to say that I agree with your assessment there completely. I've been reading Incite!'s materials on violence against women of color, and the history there is harrowing.

I was just thinking there's also more violence against people of color, and with tasers, violence is going up against everyone, because tasers are "safe."

stephen said...

Did you hear about the Berkeley Anarchists? They got their office/gathering place raided by police recently on "suspicion" that there computers may hold information needed by the feds... now all their stuff is gone and NO MORE anarchist newspaper for awhile... that happened in Berkeley... sooo just imagine how fucked up the rest of the world is..

i'm terrified!!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oh, Lisa, you are so so right that violence is going up (and that's a good point about the horrifying use of Tasers), I agree totally -- and definitely the violence in general is disproportionately against people of color, always!

And Stephen, I did hear about the Long Haul, although I didn't realize that meant that now the Slingshot will be out of print for a while -- I need to get all the details, thanks for the information!

Love --

Hilary Goldberg said...

I was going to leave this alone but I can't help sharing this info from because it speaks to impunity on a fiscal level -- new strategy on their part?: "The Associated Press reports taxpayers in St. Paul should be off the hook for any damages stemming from claims of police misconduct related to the Republican National Convention. As part of a deal with the city, the Republican Party’s host committee bought insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for lawsuits against the police." The perfect crime.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hilary, wow this is horrifying -- "the perfect crime," indeed.

Thanks for jumping back in with more details!

Love --

ohthehorrror said...

It always comes back to fear for me. And silencing. And competing narratives.

One of the most terrifying parts about what happened to Elliot for me is the power they have AFTER they commit their crimes against humanity. Yes, being beaten, starved, tortured and humiliated are all terrifying. But even worse is the power they have to create a narrative that shifts blame for the abuse back to the victim or even deny that it happened in the first place.

"He deserved it, you see? He was being disruptive. And besides, don't you think that if something REALLY awful happened it would be all over the news? It must not have actually happened then."

Everything Elliot was and did and felt in that moment: the bravery, the fear of being killed, the pain,the humiliation, the rage.

All erased. It wasn't wrong because it never REALLY happened. And you must be psychotic if you think it did happen.

Sound familiar?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

"He deserved it, you see? He was being disruptive. And besides, don't you think that if something REALLY awful happened it would be all over the news? It must not have actually happened then."

Yes, this narrative is monstrous and awful and so so ever-present it never ceases to stun me although I don't know why I'm stunned I'm still stunned...

Love --

gina said...

i sent this to free speech radio news. why the fuck is this so under-reported? even by alternative news sources?
i love love love you so so so.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Gina, darling -- you're so right, this does seem dramatically underreported -- thanks for the forward!

And love love love LOVE --