An Exploration of Police Raids Around the RNC

15:13 Sun 31 Aug 2008. Updated: 23:56 21 Jul 2009
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In Minneapolis/St. Paul, there’s been plenty of democracy suppression over the last few days, with various police forces raiding homes and gathering points of groups planning to protest the Republican National Convention. Glenn Greenwald covers the bases here, and also has a follow-up about Federal involvement.

As pointed out in a letter to Glenn, this isn’t new by any means (nor, I suspect, is it restricted to the Republican convention—I’d be rather surprised if the same stuff didn’t happen around the DNC). It also goes back a lot further than the letter-writer suggests (they cite 2000 as the starting point).

In fact, it’s hard to say how far back it goes, but let’s just start with the post-WWII period. This kind of thing happened throughout the 60s, and while it was absolutely wrong and completely egregious, a lot of the commentators on it don’t seem to link it fully to racism and class warfare, which it is absolutely part of. It’s just that at times it goes beyond the usual assaults on non-“whites”/non-straights (problematic terms, but I need the shorthand) to hitting those in the middle class who get uppity—which is when it gets a little more press. Still nowhere near enough, but a little more.

Warrentless home invasions searches, police brutality, arbitrary confiscation, random harrassment, illegal surveillance—people in this country who are insufficiently “white” and/or insufficiently well-off go through it all the time, and it’s ongoing. There was a time in the 70s when it seemed that oppressive overzealousness had generated serious opposition, culminating in the Church Committee, but the pendulum swang back fairly quickly—and, of course, the Church Committee had no interest in “everyday” police brutality, such as exemplified by the Rodney King beating, the conduct uncovered by the Mollen Commission, the death of Amadou Diallo, and countless other examples.

In any case, having noted that, essentially, this shit goes on all the time and the underclass in this society bear the brunt of it, I wonder about the motivations driving its expansion. After all, one of the reasons that this doesn’t tend to happen to the middle class is that they have some power, political and financial. Right now, though, the powers-that-be don’t fear being exposed in their flagrant abuses.

There are a variety of reasons for that, not least of which is that they know that swarms of bleating apologists will emerge immediately, those who seek to always justify the exercise of authority no matter how appalling it is. They also know that without media support, citizen outrage will sink almost unnoticed.

Nevertheless, I’m still curious about exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing.

There are a number of different groups involved. At the very least, there are the people organizing the convention, the big shots attending the convention, Federal police agencies, local police agencies, and local municipal governments.

I doubt very much that any of these groups are actually worried that the protests, left unmolested, would damage or even noticeably hinder their goals in the short term. Protesters in the Twin Cities are not going to change GOP policy or actions one iota. Even if millions turned out, their impact on the GOP would be minimal, and the media would simultaneously belittle their presence while casting them as frightening and dangerous. So we can eliminate short-term protection of the interests of the GOP big shots as motivation.

The convention organizers and the local government, on the other hand, would be concerned about protests, because they want everything to be as smooth as possible. Both groups are highly motivated to ensure that everything is smooth, and both groups are highly motivated to ensure that the daily activities of the big shots are not disrupted even an iota. Both groups look to those big shots for favors, or will do so in future, and hence will bend over backwards to please them. I doubt that many of them consider routinely violating the Constitution in order to smooth the lives of the vastly powerful as anything other than something that’s simply necessary for their careers. If they even consider it in those terms. That provides one plank of motivation.

The local police groups are probably motivated by three factors: a desire for federal funding, a desire to feel important, and a probable dislike for the kinds of people who protest. The first is obvious: they’re given a lot of money by the Feds to help the various covert operations involved, and possibly for a lot of other equipment, and probably for overtime and the like that eventually directly benefits rank-and-file police. The second is a little more dubious, because it seems so ludicrous that anyone would really believe that it’s of critical importance to the safety of the city to bust up peaceful protesters, but I suspect that the police believe their own (and the Feds’) propaganda, because believing that there are nasty “terrorists” involved makes it all much more palatable. If those “terrorists” are so cunning as to seem exactly like nonviolent peaceful protesters, that’s merely a sign of how cunning they are. Sinclair’s dictum is relevant here: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. Lastly, police tend not to like protesters of any stripe, and left-wing ones are usually associated with groups the police regard as enemies, such as the “free Abu-Jamal” and CopWatch (or similar) crowds.

The lower-level Feds are like the police: they want to get the money associated with these operations, they’re probably also aware that doing them well might be important career-wise, and they want to feel important. Higher up the ladder, they’re more concerned with the desires of the elite, a number of whom make up the Republican “big shots” mentioned earlier. We’ve already established that these big shots are unconcerned with the short-term effects of the protests, although they might well dislike any disruption in their days.

That leaves the longer-term impact of the protests. As corrupt as the American political establishment is, I strongly doubt that they would expend so much effort and energy just to make sure their meetings at such events run on schedule. There are longer-term considerations, two major ones that I can see.

The first is the desire to expand the security state. It was already huge before 2001, and has ballooned since thenm, in all directions. Much of it is really about security theater, but with an additional element that I don’t know if Schneier included in his original definition: the presence of security makes further security appear necesary. That is, each event (or procedure) at which security theater is present creates drives for it to be present at other events. Politicians and bureaucrats see it partly as a matter of prestige, and so demand it at more and more events. Those in the public, or the media, who choose not to see it for what it is will also demand it at more and more events, since it becomes reassuring to them and hence they want its presence more or less all the time. Behind these motivations, there’s the usual, perhaps eternal, one: those in power seek more power. The people controlling the security apparatus want more power to accrue to it so they can wield that power.

The second is related, and is about longer-term suppression of democracy. While nobody in power thinks that protesters will achieve anything in the short term, the last thing they want is for protest to become mainstream or acceptable, because then it might well achieve things, and those things would by definition be outside the control of those in power, because they’d be grassroots efforts. While intimidating the protesters is a part of the plan, the larger effort is aimed at those who aren’t protesting now but who might think of doing so at some point. Many of them will be put off by fear of being treated badly, which is understandable, and a sadly large other number will be put off because they will believe that the massive “security” operations must have been justified by something and that hence protesting means joining with “dangerous elements”.

Those last effects, attempting to ensure that grassroots movements cannot spread and that only establishment-approved (i.e. establishment-controlled) means of political participation are considered “appropriate”, are not bugs. They’re features, in fact the main features.

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