Police Harass Participants at Veterans Convention in Twin Cities

On the eve of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St Paul, the police and other security forces waged a campaign of repression and intimidation against activists who came from across the U.S. to send a message to the Republican Party.

Police carried out preemptive raids and detentions designed to deny people their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. And in one incident, police also targeted guests and participants in the Veterans for Peace/Iraq Veterans Against the War conventions held at the Ramada Mall of America outside the Twin Cities.

Near the conclusion of the conference, police tailed a carload of convention participants returning to the Ramada. “Police followed us for about 15 or so miles all the way to the Ramada and then detained us in our car for close to half an hour,” explained VFP associate member Ashley Smith. “They jumped out of their vehicle, surrounded our car, and demanded our ID’s for no justifiable reason.”

The police eventually released the carload without charges, Smith stated. “The police seemed to be itching for a confrontation, perhaps because the delegation from Alaska, home to Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, was staying in the very same hotel.”

After this incident, the Ramada night manager targeted another convention participant who had been a guest at the hotel throughout the weekend. Kevin James, a black hip hop activist and performer widely known as Son of Nun, had been watching the police harassment of activists outside the hotel. When he re-entered the Ramada lobby, the manager singled him out, demanding what room he was in and asking for his ID. The manager got hotel security and at least eight police officers to detain James for close to half an hour.

James stated that the police searched him and looked on the verge of arresting him when he refused to present his ID. It was evident to James and others who witnessed the hotel’s treatment of him that this harassment could only be an example of racial profiling since many white guests who were also present were not asked for ID. After other activists came to his defense and began organizing both a publicity campaign and legal defense, the officers let James go free.

“I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels in my life,” he noted, “and I’ve never been racially profiled by the staff in any of them. This incident is especially disgusting since I was a guest of two groups who’d patronized the hotel in the days before, VFP and IVAW, who are fighting to end the racist war and occupation of Iraq. The fact that I was subject to the culture of police repression around the RNC seems to be par for the course here in the Twin Cities.”

VFP and IVAW convention organizers expressed grave concern over these events. “One of the things that’s particularly upsetting is that these actions are intimidating people who want to participate in changing our society for the better,” said Michael McPhearson, VFP’s executive director. “Isn’t that the right that I and other veterans served to protect? Now our government is suppressing that vital democratic right.”

IVAW executive director Kelly Dougherty also expressed dismay at the harassment by police. “The way that Kevin and other close allies of IVAW were harassed and singled out after the convention was disturbing and very IVAW,” said Dougherty.

“The suspicion and mistrust that Kevin experienced is a symptom climate of fear that is being stoked by our government and causing us to turn against one another instead of working together for change.”

Ashley Smith is a writer and activist from Burlington, Vermont. He writes frequently for Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at ashley05401@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Ashley.