Post-RNC: Interview with Wendy Binion
Post-RNC: Interview with Wendy Binion
On the train back to Portland from St. Paul, I got talking to a slight young woman with an elastic bandage wrapped around her arm and learned that she had been arrested in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention. Below is the transcript of an interview I did with her. At the end are links to an MP4 of an interview she did with someone else before leaving St. Paul, and to a Minneapolis IndyMedia story about some of the weaponry used by authorities.
Scoop: How did you get this bandage on your arm?
I was taking video at Mears Park in St. Paul, MN. It was about 10 minutes before a permitted march called the Poor People's March was going to happen. I was taking video, just regular camcorder video, of the keynote speakers. I did do a little cop-watching, not too much, just to get a general sense of the fact that we were surrounded by riot police. There was a SWAT helicopter in the air, and there was one--and only one that I could see--police person with a live-ammunition M16. This is in a residential neighborhood, a park with children.
There was still an element of frivolity. You know, there was some dancing and some whatnot. I did see that the Industrial Workers of the World had a banner, and that the riot police came in--and I got it on video--they came in and took their flagpoles away so they couldn't wave their flags during the march. But anyway, I was still on park property, and I was going to go use the restroom, to tell you the absolute truth, about ten minutes before the march was supposed to start, and I told one of my other Independent Media folks that I was going to leave for about five minutes. They said, "Okay, hurry back because the march is about ready to start."
I definitely had my press pass on me. I did have a helmet on me, though, but it didn't say "press". That was only from my experience the day before with being sprayed the first day of the Republican National Convention. So I was trying to use protective measures. I had a media flak jacket; it had my power cords and a minor amount of medical supplies. Other than that, it was just me and the camera. So, I was starting to walk towards the exit of the park to go use the restroom and right in front of small children and everything I heard, "Hoi! Hoi! Hoi! Hoi!" which is the noise that the riot police make. I don't know why they make it, but I know that they make it. So I thought, "Oh, holy cow! There's something going on," and I went to go reach for my camcorder.
It didn't register to me that it was me that they would be going after. That just seemed so nonsensical. Then I realized it was me. I didn't actually get my camcorder on cos they came--there were seven or eight of them dressed in full kevlar riot gear,and they basically plugged me up. I'm a very small person; I'm 90lbs, five feet tall. They put my shoulders up like this [holds arms up above her head] and used pain compliance holds. Three of them did. Two held my arms up above my head and they're dragging me backwards. My camera is hanging down. The other person comes behind me and starts pushing right there, right there [indicates points on both forearms and upper arms] right there, right there--all the pressure points.
I asked them at first, "What is going on? What is going on?" [lowers arms] My shoulder is still hurting. They said, "Just relax." So I started saying, "My name is Wendy Binion. I am with Portland IndyMedia. I am not resisting arrest," and I just kept reiterating that over and over at the top of my lungs. Then they started giving me... to me it felt like they were getting even more nervous and they were pushing harder in. That guy who was behind me started to put his two fingers like this [clasps both sides of her neck with one hand from the back]. Even though I had two officers dragging me backwards, he was kind of pulling my neck back. But then he stopped, and they put the handcuffs on and they put three sets of zipties over the handcuffs, which I thought was so ridiculous considering, like I said, I weigh 90lbs. I don't know why I was shackled.
But anyway, they brought a vehicle and they escorted me extremely quickly--we must have been going 80, 85 miles an hour. It was, like, very fast. They drove me into the basement of Ramsey County Sheriff's Department. But before that, we had to go through a military checkpoint. There was a military checkpoint. I didn't have to get out of the vehicle, and frankly I didn't have to speak. The escorting officer just gave the heads up to the military. But when we got in there, they basically took all my audiovisual equipment--they will not give it back--they processed me... I still have no idea, by the way, what I'm being charged for. When I did get into holding, there was a cheer that let up from at least two or three other booking officers saying, "Oh, did we get another anarchist from the RNC? Yay!"
They processed me for felony rioting. And then they let me go three hours later, which I thought was fascinating considering I don't have a court date and supposedly I'm a felon. Just long enough so I wouldn't be participatory in the march.
Scoop: You also told me about another young man.
They tortured him for about 30 hours and let them go without any charges. As far as I can tell from the press conference--I haven't talked to him--but as far as I can tell from what he said yesterday at the press conference, he was arrested for... He was riding a bicycle parallel to the protest, and there was some kind of melee to his left. Riot bike police actually ran into HIM, but he's a nice guy, from what it looks like, so he gets off his bike and even though he doesn't realize he has a head injury and an ankle injury from the initial contact, he said, "Oh, I'm so sorry." You know, "my bad" kind of thing. Which is kind of normal if you're a nice person, to kind of apologize if you get hit--no harm, no foul.
But they arrested him. Immediately they just started torturing him. This was a very young man, slight, and quiet. They did everything from deny him food, water, definitely denied him legal representation. They took their thumbs and put it in pain compliance [indicates thumb pressure under the earlobe] apparently, in his neck. I don't want to speak too much about his case because I'm not him. It is online. Amnesty International has wanted to take up his case because--well, they almost killed him. For lack of a better term. He has several head injuries now and they did put on a gag bag, where he vomited, which is one of the last stages before you actually die from a head injury is you do vomit.
Scoop: You mentioned a press conference. Was that organized by Amnesty International?
No, that was organized by the Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee through their lawyer because they have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong, when really it was the police that did everything wrong. This has definitely been a war waged by St. Paul and the feds against young anarchists and independent media and some of our most fragile social members. There is people who were on crutches, or the extremely young, the extremely old, some people with mental and physical disabilities were actually targeted and abused and put in jail for 36 hours. It was a very strange kind of militaristic war tactic.
One of the things, and in the press conference they commented on this, is that we were paraded around in front of the others to kind of show--I'm a small person--to kind of show like "Oh, if we can take a small person, or if we can take a person from the media, or a young woman who was drug around by her arm by a horse cop in front of a public park with children, we can do it to anybody." It just seemed like fear tactics were involved, and I think that the more the United States police force becomes militarized--cos I've seen the change, in their dress and their conduct; I didn't just wake up yesterday starting to do media or activism--the more militaristic their crowd control tactics have become, it's certainly not for the common good as far as I'm concerned.
Unless you don't want to admit that we're an occupied territory, you can't have militarized techniques being used for relatively peaceful protests. Even if there's a minor amount of property damage, I don't think it should be treated as a military coup. So if this is what it's like at the RNC...
I really hope it doesn't progress any further because otherwise cameras will be illegal, journalism will be illegal unless you're one of the four major corporations.
Scoop: You mentioned about 400 people being arrested on the last night.
Independent Media serves dual functions at mass actions. Not only do we provide voluntarily--we have no money base, usually--cameras, audiovisual equipment, training to be out in the field--but we also provide logistics for coordinating journalists to actions and events, and try to attempt to coordinate with people who are involved with community medical, people who are involved in community legal, and trying to provide those services as best we can. We've done it before from Seattle to Miami FTA, and different mass marches.
Anyway, [on the last night of the convention], when I was doing dispatch, we got no less than 75 calls in less than 60 minutes--and that's the truth--of people screaming, "Please get people out here. Please get media out here." Unfortunately, a lot of our media was trapped in the same melee. They basically just--"they" being the riot police--had no intention of letting people who were in the middle of the road leave. They actually boxed them in, one of my coordinates told me a myriad of different callers... nobody had a safe escape route. Especially if you had limited mobility, if you were on a walker or a cane or something, forget it! They were forcing these people to run all over the place. They were not all anarchists--not that that would have mattered.
[The authorities] just had spent too much money on chemical weaponry and they had to use it. It was the last day, so they had 150 people zip-tied on Marion Bridge at one point. For no other reason other than the fact that they dared to stand in the street in non-compliance. Those people are being charged with such a myriad of different things, yet they were all on the same bridge. How is that possible?
Scoop: You also mentioned that a group had their dispatch radio taken away from them.
Yes, the health collective. The North Star Health Collective was running the basic street triage, decontamination, health and wellness center, and on that last day they had the police come in and just take their dispatch radio, which--by the way--they now have to pay for and none of them has any money. It was just a big, you know, "We will debilitate you" campaign against the things that the RNC Welcoming Committee had, at least in part, helped sponsor and/or coordinate for community. This was community DIYing their own care, their own media, their own truth-archiving, and their own resistance movement, and that scared them.
I don't think they realized how many people were participating in taking care of their own. They thought that we would be debilitated and would have no support. But now we have lawyers, we have all these other volunteer folks--no matter what their political ideology is--that think that this is unacceptable behavior and are willing to rally around it.
--END OF INTERVIEW--
Link to Minneapolis IndyMedia: http://www.minnesotaindependent.com/7923/crowd-control-at-the-rnc-fifty-million-unanswered-questions
Link to Portland IndyMedia Intreview with Wendy Binion: http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2008/09/05/wendybinion_stpaul_9-5-08.mp4