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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
Best photos of June '24
Published June 23, 2024

RNC report leaves some questions

Following four months of contentious debate about who did what and what went wrong at SeptemberâÄôs Republican National Convention, the independent group assigned to review police action issued its report Wednesday. The vision for the convention as one with a âÄúsoftâÄù police presence, clashes between journalists and police and a lack of communication between police and community members contributed to messy and misunderstood police action, commission leaders Thomas Hefflefinger and Andrew Luger said in a presentation before the St. Paul City Council.

To view the RNC slideshow, click here.

As for the methodology behind the reportâÄôs analysis, the two commission heads said there was no hard-and-fast assessment system and their review of hours of videotaped footage, media reports and still photographs proved âÄúnobody was all correct and nobody was all wrong in this.âÄù The question of accountability still lingers. While the commission endorsed further investigation of some incidents, itâÄôs still unclear how, when and if that will be handled.

Council hears report findings

A few dozen protesters sat in council chambers to hear the findings of the report, released earlier that day. Several laughed when Luger said organizers didnâÄôt mean for the RNC to stifle free speech. The goal of promoting free speech, he said, was âÄúnot fully realized.âÄù Hefflefinger and Luger numerous times noted a shift in police tactics after the first day of the RNC, when self-described anarchists took to St. PaulâÄôs streets and damaged property. Anarchist protesters allegedly threw objects from the Marion Street bridge onto a delegate bus driving beneath it. After boos, hisses and occasional verbal outcry from the protesters and their supporters, Council President Kathy Lantry asked for the audienceâÄôs silence during the presentation. Later, she threatened a recess if meeting attendees refused to stop interrupting the presentation with criticism. Lantry said the next day that her beliefs in democracy and politeness conflicted at the meeting. âÄúI understand that people have a different point of view,âÄù she said. âÄúWhat I donâÄôt get is sort of a general disrespect and I think there seemed to be skepticism about everything that was uttered.âÄù Councilmember Dave Thune has agreed to host a forum to discuss the report at a later date.

Protesters react to report

Protesters at the meeting, including Max Specktor of the RNC 8, who each face terrorism charges related to alleged plans to shut down the convention and kidnap delegates, were displeased with the report. âÄúThey claim to be unbiased, but clearly they have a bias toward the government point of view,âÄù University of Minnesota cultural studies junior Specktor said, referencing HefflefingerâÄôs past as U.S. Attorney and LugerâÄôs as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. âÄúThereâÄôs no surprise at the findings.âÄù A major problem with the report, Specktor said, included multiple mentions of âÄúviolent anarchistsâÄù identified by Hefflefinger, Luger and five other commissioners, including University law professor Barry Feld, in photos and video footage. The report distinguishes between âÄúviolent anarchistsâÄù and âÄúpeaceful anarchists.âÄù âÄúI thought it was ridiculous that they could look at a photo and tell someoneâÄôs ideology,âÄù Specktor said.

WhoâÄôs accountable?

While Specktor conceded that the report held criticism of police action âÄî namely, 120 separate police agencies signed joint powers agreements to secure St. Paul during the RNC and police in riot gear that covered identifiers such as badge numbers âÄî he doesnâÄôt expect any major reverberations. âÄúIn whatever instances that they found police acted out of line, [police] should be accountable,âÄù he said. Lantry agreed, but was more hopeful for consequence than Specktor. âÄúItâÄôll be interesting to see how this information translates into the everyday workings of the St. Paul Police Department,âÄù she said. âÄúWe donâÄôt need a policy manual that says âÄòNext time we have the RNC in townâÄô because that isnâÄôt happening again.âÄù The anonymity of police whose identifying badge numbers and home police department emblems were covered needs to be addressed, Lantry said. The report highlighted âÄúsignificant concernsâÄù regarding the use of chemical agents such as Mace as an offensive weapon rather than a defensive one. In the process of reviewing footage, photos and reports of RNC protests, Hefflefinger noted âÄúa number of instances that warrant further review.âÄù But that type of additional scrutiny rests on the shoulders of an as-yet-unknown entity or group. But, Luger said following the council meeting, the commission has fulfilled its duty. He noted that none of the commissioners are current prosecutors or sworn police officers, and said they have no affiliations with the agencies involved. Now, he said, the report is directed toward St. PaulâÄôs government, which could mean city attorneys, police or the U.S. Attorney. Some protesters called for a grand jury to hear testimony about police misconduct. âÄúItâÄôs in the power of the city government to do what it will do,âÄù Luger said.

Journalist-police relations

Hefflefinger and Luger peppered throughout their presentation and report serious concerns about how police reacted to journalists. They hinted that police might not have been prepared for the huge influx of media concentrated in St. Paul. Questions about what constitutes a journalist in the age of blogs and widespread independent media could have also played into harsh treatment of media members. The commission specifically scrutinized one incident, police action on the final night of the RNC that drove protesters to the Marion Street bridge using concussion grenades and chemical irritants such as tear gas and pepper spray. Snowplows blocked the opposite end of the bridge, positioning protesters and journalists alike for a mass arrest. Minnesota Daily photographer Stephen Maturen was swept up in that incident after being pepper sprayed several times at close range. He was released hours later, but many other journalists werenâÄôt.

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