Dry Run at the State Convention

Police riot shieldsCOLORADO SPRINGS- Interviewers kept asking me ahead of time if the local Colorado Democratic State Convention was going to be a dry run for groups planning something big at the national convention in August. Their curiosity might have been piqued by the mention of PROTEST COLORADO on Michael Moore’s list of “more fun with dry runs” leading to the DNC. I told them I was aware of no such plans, but it became clear to me today that the news reporters had been on to something. There WAS a dry run in the works, and it was being carried out by law enforcement.

I was arrested at 7:05AM Saturday, through no planning of my own. There was confusion over where the First Amendment applied and where it did not. There was a “FREE SPEECH ZONE” which shared a police-tape demarcated area with a “BOOSTER ZONE” for those whose speech was regulated by the Democratic Party. Which part was which was not universally understood by either the public or many of the police officers. Police commanders alluded to previously agreed perimeters, while we asserted what we understood had been decided. Calling in a supervisor led not to a discussion but to the barking of orders, our mouths agape. The police seized upon the chance to arrest, process and hold us, until our opportunity to be heard had passed. We were mighty confused at the time, but in retrospect the police maneuver was carried out like clockwork.

It seems to be my habit to be blind sided by heavy handed authority. But I hope this does not detract from the principal dynamic at play. I am an ordinary American citizen, with an ordinary citizen’s right to express myself. Even playing within the post-911 limitations placed on our civil liberties, abiding by a “free speech zone,” my right to participate in our democracy is being muted by a false authoritarian concern for public safety.

DELAY AND RELOCATION
Particularly indicative of the police strategy was what they did with Peter and I after our arrest. We were taken across the street to the Quail Lake Loop El Paso County Sheriff substation where we were booked and cited first for obstruction, then for trespass. Forms and fingerprints were completed twice amid pleasant conversation and clarification of the “free speech zone” boundaries. We were informed that we would be free to return to the convention grounds, but that a subsequent breach of the rules would be treated with more severity. Then, instead of releasing us there, or at the nearby Sand Creek police station, an order was received to deliver us to the northern-most police substation in the city 15 miles away. Peter and I were dropped off in the parking lot of the Falcon Substation at Academy Blvd and Briargate, and only then was my cellphone returned with which I could try to arrange a ride. By the time we were able to return to our friends and vehicles at the convention, the 7-10am demonstration was passed.

SET UP?
Several weeks beforehand the CSPD had conducted public meetings for citizens to hear about the convention security measures. I attended none of these meetings, but gained a general understanding from a symposium held by the ACLU attended by a CSPD representative. Another CSPD commander turned up on Tuesday May 12 at the monthly ACLU board meeting to apprise our members again of the city’s plans. It was here we learned that there were two “Free Speech Zones” to be made available to the public. Of particular interest were the now graciously added grassy almond shaped areas adjacent the main steps to the World Arena. From this briefing it was decided to relocate our banners to those parts, as they afforded visibility to all delegates attending the convention, not just those coming from the hotels along Geyser Drive.

On Saturday we discovered that those spots were not being offered to us. And this was the source of the confusion. Despite being reminded that a roomful of ACLU members and lawyers had witnessed what the convention organizers had purportedly offered to be public areas, the police held steadfast that no such close-up access would be given. There would have been no confusion on Saturday if an advance agreement from either side had not been presumed. There would have been less disappointment on our part if an area accorded free speech rights had not been perceived to have been withdrawn.

PROTEST BY FOREKNOWLEDGE OF PERMISSION ONLY
The application of a Free Speech Zone was almost farcical. Police Officers stood at the edge of the World Arena property checking for credentials. Helpers beside them called down the line, warning that no one without credentials would be allowed unto the property. When it came my turn to be asked, I answered that I had none. They were already telling me I could not enter when I was able to get a question in edgewise. I asked: “what about the Free Speech Zone?” They answered: “Oh, you’re here for the Free Speech Zone” and they waved me through. Without a description of where it was, or that it did not extend to the limit of the police tape. An ordinary public would not have known to ask to enter the area, nor about its limits.
Police tape extended toward but did not include areas 8 and 9

FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Of course there would be no problem at all if we hadn’t collectively relinquished the principle of Freedom of Speech. Why has it become so critical to public safety to shield people from each other’s speech? It used to be Sticks and Stones from which we needed police protection.

SURVEILLANCE
The extent of the security measures were leading all to believe that a personage of important political stature would be paying the convention a visit. By five in the morning all the street corners were manned by multiple motorcycle patrolmen. Suited men in dark SUVs were conducting security sweeps into the wooded hillside. Traffic signs on the interstate were warning drivers not to stop or slow along the shoulder. Police vehicles of all stripes were patrolling the parking lots, junior policemen were positioned in pickup trucks hauling coolers full of bottled water. When we arrived at the parking lot, unmarked vehicles converged upon us but exchanged information with each other without having to get out to address us.

Later in the day, Mark and I returned to the Free Speech Zone so that he could videotape my account of what had happened. Another of our party watched as men atop the roof of the Hampton Inn followed us though spotting scopes and pointed what appeared to be parabolic listening devices in our direction. None of which could be considered excessive for security precautions at such an event, although pretty clearly our protests have shown themselves to be of little threat. It would seem the purpose of the exercise Saturday was to get in some practice.

(Visited 6 times, 1 visits today)
Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
This entry was posted in Local News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dry Run at the State Convention

  1. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    Of course this was a dry run for the political police of the US for the national Democratic Party convention to be held in Denver later this summer. What was most disturbing to me was the police meeting held before the state convention in Colorado Springs, in which the Justice and Peace delegation showed no signs of actively opposing what the police and city government attorney were arranging for the antiwar protesters ahead at the DP state convention event. This included one retired attorney who also sits on the ACLU board, and to stay utterly mum was the attitude he took.

    At this meeting, what was handed down to us as direct police orders before hand,was more or less meekly accepted as being within current norms of policing without any real verbal resistance other than from myself. The other J&P folk acted embarrased that I spoke harshly out against what was being done unilaterally by the government authorities to limit the free speech of dissenters!

    What a pathetic display from the current PPJP crew at this police-called ´meeting´, who had just allowed themselves to be ambushed, too, and used this year in the St Pat´s Day Parade as a group of pro-US-troops lovers! They put themselves on a bus there, that had been provided by unknown´´donors´ with banners on the sides loaded down with the message to ´Honor the Troops´! Can you imagine? Honor the troops for what? Being an army of US imperialist occupation?

    I was working that day luckily enough, or I would have just walked away from this disgraceful J&P office cabal misleading the few antiwar others who had shown up to participate under this year´s city ´protection´ plan.

    The J&P is in serious trouble at this time, because quite frankly those running it are not sure if they want to protest the war, or hug the cops. That´s what happens when there is no internal democracy in ´peace´groups. It´s a mess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *