I missed this from the Denver Post last week because I don’t subscribe to any Colorado newspapers (I have no bird cages and thus no use for the local news), but I saw a post about it in my new favorite blog, No Blood for Hubris (another Buddhist blogger – yay! plus, gotta love the title). It’s the account of a protester who was arrested last week by the Denver PD for exercising his first amendment rights. A quick exerpt:
“The first thing I really noticed was at Civic Center Park when I was in the ‘Food Not Bombs’ area. The police seemed to be ready for conflict. They walked through the ‘Food Not Bombs’ crowd, which was a peaceful group, holding their weapons out and looking at people, really intensely, trying to intimidate everyone. It made us all a little worried.
“I was planning to march with the group that night. We all had different reasons for being there. I was marching to make people aware that they should be worried about our civil rights being stripped systematically right now, and show people that habeas corpus is six feet under. I just think the time we live in has so many deep-rooted problems that I don’t understand how people can NOT protest. I’d never been arrested before, and I have no criminal record or significant run-ins with the law.
“Everything happened really fast. We knew there were police behind us, and that presence was growing larger, with more police, but then suddenly there were police in front of us at the other end of the block. Shortly after that, the police encircled us. A lot of people were able to escape before they closed the circle, but the rest of us were inside, along with a journalist from Brooklyn, and a woman who started writing on her laptop about what was happening, and some photographers. There were many people who weren’t protesters, just citizens, who were in the encircled group.
“We moved to the sidewalk – a few people stayed in the street – because we didn’t want a confrontation, but it didn’t matter.
“People started pleading: ‘Let me go,’ ‘I want to go home.’ The police started using the pepper spray. Some of the police on horses were whacking people with their batons. I was told later that the police were telling us to disperse, but I didn’t hear them say that. And where would we go? The police were all around us, not letting us leave.
So it’s not just the St. Paul police, though obviously the SPPD have been much more…what’s the word I’m looking for…brownshirt-ish?
It’s a curious thing, though.
In St. Paul, the police seem to be sweeping up everyone who looks at them cross-eyed, without regard for group affiliation, and it looks like the Denver PD had its moments with the lefty-leaning protesters, as well.
But both days that I was in downtown Denver during the convention, I saw groups protesting against gays (and the whole GLBT spectrum) and against abortion, right on the sidewalks where people were trying to walk. These protesters were a little intimidating and in-your-face (because, after all, they were telling everybody else on the street that they were going to burn in hell).
And all the Denver PD did was keep people out of the street. That’s it. No arrests. No intimidation tactics. No hassling the right-wing protesters.
Who do they go after?
Not the anti-abortion people, in spite of the violent tactics often associated with their movement. Not the people preaching hatred and intolerance.
They went after the peace activists. The journalists. The bloggers. The people calling for health care reform. The people calling for economic reform. The people who usually make a point of being non-violent in their protests. Sure, they’re uncooperative, but they are not violent or destructive.
And yet the police are treating them as if they were throwing bricks and molotov cocktails.
America is getting scary.
Make no mistake about it, my friends. We are now living in a police state.
And the worst of it is that the people who are running the show don’t seem to understand that they are creating the conditions that are more likely to lead to open revolt against the status quo.
If you allow people to protest, they tend to think, “Okay, things are fucked up, but at least we can still say that they’re fucked up, and protest, and march, because we have our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. We can work with this.”
But when you stifle dissent…well…
In a way, society is like a pressure cooker. You need a way to vent pressure when it starts to build up to dangerous levels. Right now, certain factions within our society are trying to tighten the lid on the cooker, to prevent that venting from occurring. Protests are the steam valve that allows some of the pressure to bleed off.
Oppression breeds subversion. Rebellion.
Update: I edited this post to give the source for the quoted text (the Denver Post).