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Minnesota cops bust ‘criminal’ RNC/FNB protesters

JKLO | 01.09.2008 17:56 | Repression | Social Struggles | World

A series of police raids that took place in the Twin Cities over the weekend, in which FBI agents and local law enforcement detained six people on suspicion of conspiracy to riot at the Republican National Convention. The detainees have not been formally charged with any crime and their lawyers are in court today seeking their release. There were no such pre-emptive arrests of protesters at the Democratic Convention in Denver last week

The raids started Friday night with gun-toting officers entering an anarchist headquarters in downtown St. Paul, known as a “convergence space.” The occupants, ordered to lie on the floor, demanded to see a warrant.

Bob Fletcher, the Ramsey County sheriff, whose jurisdiction covers St. Paul, said the action was part of an investigation of the RNC Welcoming Committee. He was described the group as “a criminal enterprise made up of 35 self-described anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention. These acts include tactics to blockade and disable delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers.”

No arrests were made.

On Saturday morning, FBI and local police raided a home in Minneapolis housing an organization called Food Not Bombs. Four people were detained on “probable cause” for conspiracy to riot.

The search warrant for the raid said police were looking for “assembled, improvised incendiary devices” and urine and feces, apparently to be used in protests. Fletcher said the urine had been seized. Lawyers for protesters said the material identified as “unidentified liquid” was actually gray water used to save water in an ecologically correct toilet. The officers did find 37 “caltrops” in the garage of the home, according to Minnesota Independent’s Molly Priesmeyer who reviewed the police inventory of material seized in the raid. A caltrop is a nail-like device used to stop traffic or puncture tires.

While some complained of rough tactics, at least one of the officers acted with decency, according to Minnesota Independent. As a five-year-old boy was escorted from the home by police, he said he wanted his markers. An officer went in and came back out a few minutes later. “These are the only colors I could find,” he said. “Did I get the right stuff?”

On Saturday afternoon, police kicked in the door of another house in Minneapolis and detained three people on suspicion of conspiracy to riot.

On Sunday morning, The National Lawyers Guild said a total of six people had been detained but none had been formally charged. Police have 72 hours to charge detained suspects. On Sunday, Guild lawyer Gena Berglund said she was seeking immediate judicial review on Monday of the “probable cause holds” used to detain the six activists.

Watch the video here.

City inspectors board up raided home for ‘code violations’

(UPDATE at 2:40 p.m.: City requires tenants to fix back door kicked in by police by 6 p.m. today or they will continue with boarding process.) After the police raid this morning at 3240 17th Avenue in South Minneapolis, in which the homeowner, 23-year-old Monica Bicking, and two other people were arrested for “conspiracy to riot,” city inspectors came in at about 11:30 to board up the two-story home. City officials, including Tom Deegan, manager of the city’s problem properties unit, were on hand along with Casterjon, the private contractor in charge with boarding, to close up the home for what Deegan calls “code violations.”

Bicking’s lawyer, Bruce Nestor, asked for more specific reasons for the boarding and attempted to halt the boarding process until he got them, but he was thwarted by officials and police. Deegan says he will release specific reasons for the boarding to the Joint Information Center (a partnership with MPD and SPPD) later today.

Alex, who only wants to go by his first name, was at the house during the raid. He moved in to the home, along with Bicking, two weeks ago. He says that along with the other three roommates, they had invited around 30 people to stay at the home during the RNC so that friends from all over could be involved with protests. They had no intent of causing a “riot,” and were part of a peaceful protest mission. Still, Alex says electronic equipment and anything that could be used to make molotov cocktails was confiscated from the home. The police even took cans of paint out of the garage. The Minneapolis police conducted the raid after a warrant was issued by Ramsey County as part of a joint powers agreement in place between the two cities for the RNC.

After the police spent hours loading a truck full of electronic equipment and other property from the home, officials from the city’s problem properties unit showed up to board up the home. Alex says he was told it was because there were too many people sleeping in the attic. “We had a bunch of mattresses on the floor, because we had people staying with us,” he says. “And now they’re saying Monica’s house will be shut down for that. She’s in jail now. She’s not here to defend herself. It doesn’t make sense.”

Neighbors were angry that the city was boarding the home, too. One neighbor yelled to police officers, “We have a crack house next door that you do nothing about. But then you’re going to board up the home of these kids! This is pure propaganda and you should be ashamed of yourselves!” Indeed, the home next door did have a number of visible code violations: tall grass and weeds, trash in the yard. Neighbors said they call about problems with the home all the time, and nothing is ever done.

Yet along with being unable to enter her home, Bickling will have another rude awakening when she’s released from jail: The city charges $6,000 to homeowners for boarding up properties. Often these are charges for abandoning properties, a result of the foreclosure crisis. But in Bickling’s case, all that anyone, including the roommates and Bickling’s lawyer, were told before the plywood went up is that the home had “code violations.”

UPDATE: City officials halted the boarding process in the early afternoon and told remaining tenants that the back door, which was kicked in by police before the raid, would have to be fixed by 6 p.m. this evening or the home would be boarded. Ostensibly, the home was to be boarded for “code violations” this afternoon. But now the city is telling one roommate the entire home would be boarded in order to secure the property from trespassers who could now enter the home through the back door, which was broken by officers.

A woman staying at the home who did not want to be identified said that the roommates planned on fixing the door by 6 p.m. City officials also told her that at some point soon, the homeowner would be responsible for fixing a bedroom door upstairs, which was also kicked on by police officers this morning.