Police questionably used pepper spray, flash grenades, projectiles, excessive force and tear gas on protesters and journalists during the Republican National Convention last week in some instances with cause and in others without. While observers and participants are pointing the finger at the St. Paul Police Department, the decision to hire officers from out of town some from as far away as Philadelphia could be the real source of the aggressive behavior of some of the cops. A third party should immediately investigate the matter.
St. Paul riot police who would not go on record for fear of reprisal said the out-of-town police hires acted recklessly toward peaceful protesters. The outside hires behavior created a domino effect that would trigger an adrenaline-driven and excessive reaction toward protesters, police sources said.
Police prevented protesters from marching into downtown St. Paul during Thursdays demonstrations because the demonstration didnt have a permit to march after 5 p.m. The showdown grew tense at times and this editorial board member witnessed police excessively pepper spraying demonstrators and journalists throughout the night. One lone woman, with a peace sign held high, was repeatedly doused with pepper spray despite the fact that several officers protected by their riot gear could just as well have detained her without force. The young woman fell to the ground.
Another officer pepper-sprayed a journalist after the officer told him to get the (expletive) down! While on his knees the journalist had his hands behind his back and his press credentials were obviously displayed before the cop doused him. The University of Minnesota's student newspaper, Minnesota Daily,hadphotographers and reporters pepper sprayed, aggressively handled and in one case arrested. Moreover, an Associated Press photographer was arrested last week and AP lawyers have already sent St. Paul a condemning letter.
Throughout the evening Thursday, officers wearing St. Paul and West St. Paul badges cordially conversed with protesters while holding the police line. Protesters said they could identify officers who werent local police because many of the badges were covered.
We do not condone the unlawful actions of the alleged "anarchists." Police had the right to take action on the breakaway demonstrators roaming the streets with bricks bent on property destruction and violence and stealing the message of the main march.
Indeed, the verdict is still out on whether police acted beyond what was necessary. Still, there is substantial evidence, both witnessed and documented, that police throughout the week overreacted. But if the verdict is still out our question is, "Where is the jury?"
And regardless of recruiting woes, St. Paul should have stuck to Minnesota-bred officers who would have likely been more sensitive toward their citizens. The aggressive behavior may have been deterred if they had stuck with recruiting in-state police.
City officials are justifying police actions, but St. Paul should not be off the hook. Amnesty International's Washington office and Minneapolis Councilmen Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff have rightly called for an investigation. That's the least St. Paul owes to the scores of people peacefully dissenting who were greeted by the barrels of riot guns. Otherwise St. Paul would only give credence to a popular chant Thursday: This is what a police state looks like.