Chuck Samuelson of the ACLU says much of the police repression during the RNC was based on law coming out of the Patriot Act.
The right to assembly
CHUCK SAMUELSON, ACLU MN: The ACLU of Minnesota is one of 55 affiliates of the ACLU around the country. Each one of us is independent, and we sort of work collaboratively. It’s like a confederacy of civil libertarians. We’ve been working on this problem for 18 months.
GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Can you describe what this problem is?
SAMUELSON: The Republican National Convention. As soon as it was awarded, we knew that this was going to be, as the joke goes around, the ACLU full-employment convention. And we started pressing the city of Saint Paul on issues like routes, protest routes, access to the convention center, demonstration zones, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. The council has slavishly passed a number of resolutions that have had the effect of turning the city over to the federal government for this past week. It started under Bill Clinton, and they federalized the conventions, both major parties. Now, Ron Paul’s convention they didn’t federalize, and, you know, the Green party convention they didn’t federalize, but the Democratic and Republican party conventions they federalized. They allotted $15 million for security purposes fairly broadly defined. So, you know, the police now have video cameras. It’s almost like London. There’s video cameras all over the joint. They all go to the police office, and you’ve got, you know, the cops sitting there looking at video. Some of the money—$2 million of it—went for chemical irritant, but along with the money comes control. Then the FBI, through the Joint Terrorism Task Force and [“MIN-jak”] have been doing spying on domestic groups.
CAHILL: The people that are being held in jail cells right now, what next for them?
SAMUELSON: We have consistently had a strong legal presence in the jail. We probably—I mean, overwhelming. I think maybe the National Lawyers Guild has one or two attorneys there all the time, and we’ve got eight to ten. So we represent them at their arraignments. State law requires them to be arraigned within 36 hours. Most of the charges are getting dropped. All of them, save a few, are being reduced significantly and bails being set. Then there’s another group of people who are being charged. They’re primarily the ones that are involved in the raids. They’re being charged with, basically, the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act, which is a penalty enhancement. It doubles the penalty. So they’re being charged basically with a felony riot, but enhanced, so that they could be looking at a maximum sentence of seven to seven and a half years in jail. We’re representing a lot of people, and a lot of them are journalists. If you’re affiliated with a news-gathering organization that has a large legal department, life is good for you. If, however, you’re affiliated with a news-gathering organization that has either a very small or nonexistent legal department, you know, our hot-line number’s floating all over, and, you know, you can dial it, and, you know, if you get in trouble, we’ll be happy to talk to you and see what we can do to get you out of trouble. When you’ve got a police presence that’s as strong and as aggressive as this, and where they use as much chemical irritant as these guys have been using—they have two million dollars’ worth of it; you might as well use it up; doesn’t last forever, you know—you’re going to get news people who will be gassed and, you know, who will be arrested. People are being swept up, including journalists, charged with a felony, thrown in jail, and then, you know, they’re sitting there for a day and a half, and then the prosecutors are looking at it and saying, “Oh, there’s no reason. We’ll let you go.” But you’ve already been in for a day and a half and you’ve already gone through the whole indignity of the booking process. And now, you know, frankly, they have your picture, they have your fingerprints, they have all your stuff, they’ve looked through your camera. Patriot Act—that’s what this is about. All the parts of the Patriot Act were proposed by Bill Clinton’s people and defeated by the Republican-controlled Congress. 9/11 happens. Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, goes to the cupboard, pulls out all the old crap that didn’t pass, put it in a box, shoves it to the Republican-controlled Congress—still. But now there’s a Republican president, and lo and behold it passes. We’ve been fighting the Patriot Act since the day it was proposed, before it was even passed, and we’ll continue to fight it. I mean, we’re involved in all the anti-Patriot Act groups that you can imagine, and we’ve litigated and litigated and litigated and litigated, and we will continue to litigate, litigate, litigate. We’ve lobbied to try and get the new members of Congress to change it, and, you know, so far we’ve been unsuccessful, and we’re just going to keep trying, and we’re not going to quit till it’s gone. We’re non-partisan, of course, but one hopes that if the party in power changes, that the party that comes in new is going to take a look at the excesses, shall we say, of the previous administration and move to change that. But in all fairness, George Bush has been excellent for business for the ACLU. Our membership is up staggeringly. Our membership in Minnesota has grown from 3,000 to 11,000 members. Our budget has grown significantly as well, although we can always use more money. But the reality is, when times are good for the ACLU, they are really bad for everybody else, and we would just as soon go back to bad times for the ACLU and good times for everybody else.
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