Demonizing Dissent [Again]

Demonizing Dissent [Again] by Steve Clemens May 8, 2009

At first, I was neither surprised or shocked to be met by helmeted Bloomington Police at the demonstration/civil disobedience action at the ICE/immigration deportation office on Wednesday. I had confronted the police in all their riot-gear fantasy outfits at the Republican National Convention when I was part of the Minnesota Peace Team. The equipment was the same. Some even had the squad numbers from the RNC on the sides of their helmets. The only thing lacking was the silly Ninja Turtle-like armored body suits.

With gas masks in their carrying cases strapped to their thighs, one of the more than 30 police present carried an M-16 rifle with a scope and clip of ammo in place. At least two police officers carried tear gas guns. Two others carried huge pepper spray canisters – much larger than the ones I saw used on the streets of St. Paul in September – with two additional canisters across the back just in case the 30 nonviolent protesters couldn’t be subdued with an initial application. Those officers not carrying that offensive gear all had the long batons and all carried Tasers as well as the traditional Police sidearms.

What were they expecting?

At the training prior to the demonstration, the Minnesota Immigration Rights Action Coalition (MIRAC) leaders were explicitly clear to all potential participants: our tactics and attitude would be nonviolent. Our protest was directed toward the victimization of immigrants who came to our country in an attempt to feed and support their families; families which have be devastated by NAFTA, CAFTA, and other “free trade/globalization deals which allows capital and consumer goods to freely cross borders but not people. Anyone paying attention would be aware of the devastating consequences this has had on the small family farmers and other working class families in Central America, especially Mexico.

Oh, we’ll pay a little attention to Mexico when we are frightened by stories of a swine flu pandemic but otherwise we can remain blithely ignorant about the daily realities of our neighbors to the south. Folks along the borders in the desert regions of Arizona and New Mexico may feel inundated and overwhelmed as the walls and fences we’ve constructed on the border callously funnel those desperate enough to cross to risk their lives walking through the desert – hoping to stay on the migrant trails, not getting sick, running out of water, or being caught by “la migra” before reaching Tucson or Phoenix.

So when American citizens want to nonviolently protest our government’s inhumane policy of deporting agricultural, domestic, food-processing and serving, and construction workers for lack of proper documentation, we are met with police in costume designed to intimidate. Although the police who did the actual arrests of the civil disobedients were courteous, a few of the police who handled the booking process at the jail could barely disguise their contempt for us.

In a nation founded on dissent that is celebrated every July 4th, we quickly relegate the responsibilities of citizenship and instead demand to be entertained and distracted, relying on the police to dispatch anything that might “disturb” our oblivion.

The demonstrators I joined on Wednesday are not merely “sunshine patriots” but are engaged, concerned, and dedicated citizens who are demanding a more just, equitable, and caring society. They/we don’t want our compassion and calls for solidarity to stop at artificial national boundaries but realize that our abundance often comes at the expense of others and it is time we recognize it.

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