Police are supposed to defend our rights, not violate them

Column by Taylor Shelton

Who will protect us from the protectors?

Sometimes things get out of hand. And, usually, there is a group of people whose occupation it is to protect us from those situations. But as was the case on Monday night in Minnesota, the people who are supposed to protect us got a little bit out of hand, themselves.

On Monday night, three people associated with this very newspaper were arrested while documenting the protests outside the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Photographers Ed Matthews and Britney McIntosh, along with photo adviser Jim Winn were all arrested and charged with rioting.

Nothing indicates that any of the three were actually participating in the protests, much less violating any laws that would warrant their arrest or the felonies they were charged with. If convicted, Matthews, McIntosh and Winn would face a minimum sentence of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Perhaps the bright spot in all of this is that at least we know what they have been charged with; in a nation where you can be spied on by your government and detained without cause, we have learned to take our victories where we can get them.

Perhaps more so than the arrest of my Kernel colleagues, the problem appears to be that this excessive police violence is not new, nor is it abnormal. Earlier this summer, a New York City police officer assaulted a bicyclist participating in the nonviolent and legal Critical Mass, unprovoked. In the melee after the attack, numerous cyclists and citizen journalists were arrested for documenting the unconstitutional and overtly violent police actions.

Last week’s encounters outside of the Democratic National Convention in Denver saw similar use of unnecessary police force. Or even within the scope of this week’s GOP convention, we have seen preemptive raids of the homes of potential RNC protestors and the arrest of progressive journalist Amy Goodman – none of whom it appeared had actually violated any laws.

So why are we not outraged? Why and how do we allow the people who are supposed to protect us from harm from violating our rights? Why and how do they get a free pass?

Is it because we have ill-informed conceptions of what civil disobedience or unorthodox political beliefs mean? Or is it because we have become numb to the thought of violence? Has our social and political system been so degraded that we can no longer trust our police force to act in the best interest of our people, or is this just redux of Chicago in 1968?

Better than all of these questions, it is most important that we now ask as citizens, in the face of physical assault, felony charges and unwarranted jail time, how we reclaim our constitutional rights – not just to assemble and protest, but to document these actions as part of a free and open press?

Or perhaps the better question is, can we still reclaim these rights?