The Truth About Violence at the RNC and DNC Protests

by Will Potter on October 13, 2008

in Terrorism Court Cases

Later this week, I’ll post a closer look at how organizers of protests against the Republican National Convention were arrested as “terrorists.” But first I want to address some of the talk, in the mainstream press and even in activist circles, about violence at mass protests.

The general myth about protest violence goes something like this: A small group of people, wearing black, were bent on causing chaos and police violence was required to protect the public. Ever heard that one before?

Or, this Star Tribune editorial after the RNC sums it up pretty well:

The show of [police] force was a reasonable response to the behavior and the threat posed by a relatively small number of rogue protesters who traveled to the Twin Cities for no other reason than to damage property…

Supporters of the police crackdown on protestors have cited search warrant applications for some of the home raids in Minneapolis—including a bookstore. The warrant includes a string of absurd, unsubstantiated claims, including that an unnamed “reliable source” of the FBI says that 21 heavy packages that a postman says he delivered “contained weapons to be used during the RNC.”

Turns out, attorneys say the boxes were full of vegan literature.
Perhaps they were for those “terrorist” vegan potlucks.

If you only rely on these “official” sources, and don’t both to question them, it could paint a picture of these protesters as “violent.” But check out what John Wise, a national editor for Fox News, had to say:

On September 4, the convention’s last night, Wise and a colleague left the Fox tent to cover a developing protest. He ended up moving back and forth over a series of bridges in downtown St. Paul, usually in response to police orders, shooting stills and video as police-launched weaponry detonated in the background. In the process, he formed a surprisingly good picture of the protesters. (“I’m not just trying to be some liberal journalist,” Wise tells the Phoenix, “but I did not see one protester get violent, break anything, throw anything at anybody, anything like that. People were wanting to get away, but that’s natural — they were scared.”)

Riot cops relax after beating protesters at the RNC.

Riot cops relax after beating protestors at the RNC.

That’s not to say, of course, that in these mass protests there aren’t some situations where protestors initiate violence against police.

But there are two key points that need to be remembered. First, leading up to protests like this, activists are demonized and branded as “extremists” and “domestic terrorists.” Fear is instilled in the general public and law enforcement. Second, local police are being militarized. They’re being outfitted like storm troopers with tear gas cannons, concussion grenades, and other weaponry.

So what happens when you get a bunch of cops hyped up on information about evil protesters and armed to the teeth? Well, check out the image at the top of this post. It’s a t-shirt made by the police union in Denver, celebrating the beatings of protesters at the DNC.

[Check out this video of police conduct at the DNC. And, on a more inspiring note, how the crowd responds when police shut down a lawful Rage Against the Machine concert.]

In some ways, the myth of protest violence is true. It is a small group of people, often from out of state, dressed in all black, that are bent on causing violence and destruction at these mass protests. And they’re called riot cops.

And now, your moment of Zen: Anyone want to try their hand at writing a caption for this photo of Peta pigs and, er, friends?
Cops posing with Peta pigs at the RNC.

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