When word first hit about the raids committed by uniformed officers against various sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it was really bizarre and confusing. Why were the cops staging raids against people like Food Not Bombs? Why did they shut down the RNC Convergence Center and take all their computer gear? What the hell were Ramsey County sheriff’s department people doing invading houses in Hennepin-fricking-County?
That last question, as it turns out, helps to answer some of the others.
Bob Fletcher is the sheriff of Ramsey County. Bob Fletcher is a Republican from the formerly lily-white St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, which has for decades had an uneasy relationship with its southern neighbor. Bob Fletcher is also on the verge of losing his job, as a long-standing FBI corruption probe that has already taken out two of his buddies is drawing its net around him; he may well feel that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by using extralegal methods to please his RNC pals.
Sheriff Fletcher justified his tactics by amping up the alleged threat posed by the media groups and protesters whose lodgings were invaded:
In a statement Saturday morning, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the St. Paul raid targeted the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group he described as "a criminal enterprise made up of 35 self-described anarchists…intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention."
"These acts include tactics to blockade and disable delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers," Fletcher said. Deputies seized a variety of items that they believed were tools of civil disobedience: a gas mask, bolt cutters, axes, slingshots, homemade "caltrops" for disabling buses, even buckets of urine.
Some folks begged to differ:
But the raids drew immediate condemnation from activists and St. Paul City Councilman Dave Thune, whose district includes the former theater at 627 Smith Avenue South, which was rented by activists as a gathering space.
"This is not the way to start things off," Thune said Saturday morning. "This is sending the wrong message. Regardless of how you feel about these people…they had a right to be there."
Thune was especially critical of Fletcher for taking action within St. Paul city limits.
"I’m really ticked off…the city is perfectly capable of taking care of things," Thune said. "If they had found anything that could have been used to commit a crime they would have arrested somebody."
Said Thune: "Unless they come up with anthrax or weapons of mass destruction, I think they came up short."
That wasn’t the end of Fletcher’s Stasi-like thuggery at Smith Avenue:
An attorney for protesters said Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies and St. Paul police officers handcuffed at least 50 people and made them lie on the ground for an extended period. The raid happened Friday night around 9 p.m. at the former Smith Theater on St. Paul’s west side.
Thune estimates that about 100 people were in the theater and detained. He said deputies knocked down the door using a police battering ram and then deputies went in with guns drawn, forcing people to the ground.
The group says they are now accused of a fire code violation and the theater was boarded shut on orders of Fletcher. This last action also upset Thune, who said the sheriff had no authority to order city staff to keep people out of a building.
Thune said he would be working with city officials today to re-open the building. Demonstrators said later Saturday that the building was being re-opened.
Then again, the same mentality that fears people like Food Not Bombs and barges into jurisdictions not his own is the one that ordered concrete barricades to ring his controversial citadel near University and Lafayette Avenues to fend off the thousands of evil vegan potluckers he’s sure will descend upon it — even though it’s on the other side of town from the Xcel Center. He’s the one who took the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office from a sleepy entity to a big-budgeted power machine, stepping on a lot of toes along the way. Now, with the FBI probe poised to ring down the curtain on his career, he may well have decided to go out like the thug he is and, from various accounts, always has been.