Call the Riot Squad: Cops Tune Up for Republican National Convention

Minneapolis -- The 2008 Republican National Convention is going to be pure hell on the Twin Cities. It is going to disrupt life, polarize people, and leave scars. Nothing good will come of it, and the trouble is already starting.

Case in point: On August 31st, Minneapolis police and law enforcement types from a number of other agencies waded into a monthly bicycle rally/ demonstration and arrested 19 people -- including three minors -- one a 16-year-old honors student ("All A's for three years -- except 2 A-minuses") at an inner-city Minneapolis high school. Let's call her Annie.

The monthly demonstration is sponsored by Critical Mass Minnesota -- a loose local chapter of a national group of bicyclists who are out for a bigger share of the political transportation agenda -- and of the road.

Viewed from the Internet, Critical Mass looks pretty benign. There are chapters in hundreds of American cities. Each seems to establish its own level of militancy, ranging from "aging hippie" to Bay Area anarchist (the national site offers tactics for tying up traffic and being a complete pain in the ass for cops dispatched to get things moving again).

As local chapters go, Critical Mass Minnesota looks a bit post prime. Their website is defunct. They're down to a Yahoo message board, some graffiti-like sidewalk stencils, and the rally itself, which is held during rush hour on the last Friday of every month and winds through downtown Minneapolis, and other neighborhoods.

Nothing in the recent history of the rally would lead you to believe the police would have encountered a problem on the 31st. But a number of radicals from other parts of the country were in town that weekend. The occasion was something called "pReNC," sponsored by a local group calling itself "The RNC Welcoming Committee."

pReNC was a chance for the radicals to meet, scout the Twin Cities, and plan for protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention. For some reason, some of them joined the Critical Mass rally.

It started out all right. Critical Mass began to do what they always do -- block a few lanes of traffic, run red lights en masse. That sort of thing. Push inevitably came to shove, though, and eventually, somebody in the crowd provoked the cops enough to get arrested. When others started to object, the cops put out an "officer needs help" call.

"Thumping Practice" for the Republican National Convention was on. Again from newspaper reports, 48 officers from six law enforcement agencies responded within minutes. Les bon temps, complete with pepper spray, the aforementioned 19 arrests, and a few minor injuries, roulezed.

Six Minnesota law enforcement agencies were able to field 48 officers at the drop of a hat on a Friday afternoon in summer -- a time when most of those guys would rather be home with the kids. Or up at the lake fishing. Or on a bar stool with a beer. Or maybe trolling for "not gay" senators in a men's room at the airport. Go figure.

A convenient drill? A tune-up fight for a heavyweight title match with all those protesters coming to town next September?

Probably. The cops knew a radical element was in town. Here was an opportunity for different agencies to practice working together in real world conditions; an opportunity to develop strategies for hassling protesters who were developing strategies for hassling next fall's Republican National Convention.

Which brings us back to Annie. The only child of a single mom, she lives in a diverse inner-city neighborhood, and is building the kind of academic, extracurricular, and college entry test record I've seen rich suburbanites try to buy for their kids.

She admits she went to the rally/demonstration knowing "anarchists" would be riding along. But she says when the cops went to work, she tried to do what they told her to do -- "Get moving."

But she couldn't get out of their way fast enough, and found herself cuffed and in the back of a hot squad car, windows rolled up, riot at hand, waiting to see what would happen next.

There was a trip to a holding area at the nearby Minneapolis Convention Center. Convenient the way that holding area happened to appear. Bet Minnesota law enforcement has a big one in Saint Paul next fall.

There was more time in the back of the squad car while the arresting officers searched what (to Annie) looked like Google for something to charge her with.

There was time in a slow-moving line with the cops who had arrested her -- and with other arrestees and their cops. There was a woman who, together with Annie's' cops, was unable to determine a charge beyond "probable cause." The woman assigned her a case number anyhow.

There were photos (her and the cops who had arrested her) -- and, almost, a trip to jail in a paddy wagon before somebody realized she was a juvenile and took her to the Juvenile Center. There, after mug shots, fingerprints, and more questioning, ("Do you use drugs? Are you a runaway?") she was finally allowed to call her mother and go home.

She has not been charged with anything. Yet. The matter is somewhere in the legal system -- hanging there as "PC_____." Probable cause -- blank.

The blank will be filled in later -- or not. If there's any common sense in the City Attorney's office, the entire matter will be dropped.

"The whole thing certainly radicalized me," she says as she sits at the kitchen table. "They wanted to scare people away. But more people will come from out of town now."

"I wish it (the Republican National Convention) wasn't coming," adds her mother. "It's going to be icky. It's going to get ugly. But you have to protest. It's the Republicans. They started the war in Iraq."

The Republican National Convention is coming. It's going to be pure hell on the Twin Cities. It is going to disrupt life, polarize people, and leave scars. Nothing good will come of it, and the trouble is already starting.

What about the Critical Mass rally coming up at the end of this month? Will Annie take part?

"It's Homecoming at school. There's the dance and I'm in student government..." Annie smiles. "But I have to get to that demonstration somehow."