4/20/2008 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Keep Up the Fight for Free Speech
  • CUAPB Statements on Permits for Free Speech
  • Official Channels for Police Accountability Nearly Non-Existent in Minneapolis
  • Critical Mass: Not Guilty
  • Brooklyn Park Police Treatment of Youth and People of Color Protested
  • Police State Update: The War of Error

KEEP UP THE FIGHT FOR FREE SPEECH!

PS&RS Meeting
Wednesday, April 23
1:00 p.m.
Minneapolis City Hall
350 S 5th Street, Rm 317

When we last reported on the machinations of free speech in Minneapolis, the "Free Speech" Working Group was looking at three proposals--two would require mandatory permits and one would "encourage" voluntary permits, even for demonstrations on sidewalks that don't block the streets or pedestrian traffic. We are, of course, opposed to all of these measures--even the "voluntary" scheme would allow the police chief to be the sole arbiter on who gets permits and would allow the cops to change the rules "on the fly"--while an event is in progress. See the statement below for a full analysis of why we oppose these measures.

The fight for free speech has moved to a new stage as the city council essentially relieved the "Free Speech" Working Group of their duties after it appeared that the group was leaning strongly in favor of the proposal for voluntary permits. This didn't square well with certain more reactionary city council members, who want to use this opportunity to force through a highly restrictive ordinance that would hamstring the community for years to come. At its last meeting, the Public Safety & Regulatory Services (PS&RS) committee thanked the working group for its efforts and took the ball back out of their court, ordering the city attorney's office to prepare a "staff recommendation" [read: legal justification for what the council president wants] to be presented at the next meeting. April 23rd is this next meeting. The meeting after, May 7, other members of the "Free Speech" Working Group will have their turn to talk, including the police chief and fire chief. Finally, on May 21 there MAY be a public hearing (no guarantees) and then the committee will take a vote. Note the elaborate effort to block out all input from the community.

THAT'S WHY YOU NEED TO BE AT THIS NEXT MEETING. We need to sit right out front and let it be known that we will not go passively away while they decimate our First Amendment rights. And we need to be at every meeting along the way, objecting to their efforts to clamp down on free speech. So mark your calendars now: April 23, May 7, May 21, all at 1:00 p.m.


CUAPB STATEMENT ON PERMITS FOR FREE SPEECH

In recent months, the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul formed “Free Speech” Working Groups ostensibly to “protect” free speech during the Republican National Convention. However, these groups have met secretively and pressed for new ordinances that would clamp down on dissent and criminalize activities that are perfectly legal if engaged in for purposes other than protest. St. Paul has already passed a draconian ordinance and has begun “practicing” use of it on protesters.

Protest on sidewalks that doesn’t obstruct pedestrian or vehicle traffic has always been legal and has never required a permit, since it is no different than people gathering to cheer on their sports team, watch a parade, or for any other purpose. The St. Paul ordinance has changed this, and individuals protesting peacefully at an embassy in St. Paul recently felt the “iron heel” of the state when police announced a dispersal order and rushed in to arrest people as they were dispersing.

The Minneapolis “Free Speech” Working Group is working to craft a similar law. There are three proposals on the table­two requiring mandatory registration and one on voluntary registration.

We oppose all proposals for regulation of free speech on general principle. We reject the “need” for government “protection” of our free speech.

The First Amendment to the Constitution IS our permit to protest. Under this amendment, the government is prohibited from "abridging the freedom of speech...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble..." We neither need nor ask the City of Minneapolis or any other governmental entity to "protect" or "guarantee" our right to free speech. The proper role of the government regarding free speech is not to protect it, but to GET OUT OF OUR WAY as we practice what is already guaranteed to us as a right. The First Amendment is there to protect US from THEM­the government.

Permitting schemes are unneeded and won’t be obeyed.

Permitting schemes are a solution in search of a problem. Twin Cities activists have a long history of well organized protest. We do a far better job at marshalling our own crowds than the police ever could. No one has ever been injured during a protest except by actions of police. Even during protests in the streets (which already require permits), protesters are quick to move aside for ambulances and other emergency vehicles­far faster than the cars that would normally be on the streets.

Members of the Minneapolis “Free Speech” Working Group have repeatedly stated that their primary interest in creating a permitting process is to “gather information” on protests­information they are simply not entitled to. Why would the city need to know when people are going to use a sidewalk?

The bottom line: People are going to protest the Republican National Convention. Some will cooperate with the permit scheme but the vast majority will not even be aware of it or will choose to ignore it on principle. No one else gathering on a sidewalk is required to get a permit­why should people practicing free speech be any different?

Permitting schemes are an invitation to police violence against protesters.

Current law requires permits for demonstrations that block the streets. Proposals under consideration by the Minneapolis city council would criminalize merely gathering on the sidewalk with the intent of expressing political speech. Not only is this unconstitutional but would give cops­who often look for excuses to violate the rights of protesters­another tool for repressing dissent. With the city spending large sums of money on Tasers and other weaponry, police will be eager to ply these weapons on protesters. We have already seen this in action at the September 2007 Critical Mass bicycle ride, in which hundreds were pepper sprayed, Tased and beaten while legally riding their bicycles.

The Bush Administration and other Republican leaders are the REAL lawbreakers. What are the cities doing to protect US from them?

While Minneapolis and St. Paul are expending great energy figuring out ways to clamp down on free speech, they are giving free reign to real lawbreakers­of national and international laws regarding wars of aggression, torture, human rights, and so much more. These are people who are responsible for the deaths of millions. They kill people to steal their oil. They ply oppressive measures such as roadblocks and checkpoints throughout Iraq and Palestine.

Why are the cities spending enormous amounts of money and effort to control protests when true criminals will be openly coming to our cities? Shouldn’t they be making plans to arrest and prosecute these criminals?

Why are blatant lawbreakers welcomed as “an opportunity” while protesters are seen as “the problem”?

Both groups will bring large numbers of people to the Twin Cities, spending money, and bringing the attention that our city leaders crave. Both will cause some disruptions in the daily lives of our local community. Yet the cities have been working for over a year to accommodate the RNC while pulling out all the stops to thwart and frustrate the planning efforts of protest leaders with excessive delays and constructive denials of the permits we have applied for, unnecessary restrictions on our activities and other tactics. Through this conduct, the cities already show a preference and take a political stand in favor of rich lawbreakers over the community.

What--­if anything­--should the cities do toward free speech?

If members of the city councils really wished to respect our First Amendment rights, they would remove the burdensome permit processes in place in both cities’ parks. They would eliminate ordinances blocking the use of amplified sound at demonstrations. They would craft policies that reign in police and reduce the risk of police violence during protests. These, rather than new restrictions on the practice of free speech, would leave a positive legacy long after the RNC leaves town.


OFFICIAL CHANNELS FOR POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY NEARLY NON-EXISTENT IN MINNEAPOLIS

Official channels for police accountability in Minneapolis--the Civilian Review Authority, the Civil Rights Department, the Police Community Relations Council, and the Internal Affairs Department of the MPD--have become, for a variety of reasons, ineffective at addressing improper conduct by police officers. In some cases, agencies lacks the power or political will. In other cases, the agency itself acts as a stumbling block for the community in holding police accountable.

Civilian Review Authority

Started in 1991 after a groundswell of popular demand, this agency has undergone multiple waves of redesigns and reforms. Some have helped to improve functioning but mostly these efforts have weakened an already troubled agency. The agency is further stymied by direction from city attorneys who substitute the interests of the city for the interests of their client. Most recently, the agency has been significantly weakened by a unique interpretation of the law by assistant city attorney Lisa Needham, who directed the CRA to change all of its rulings from sustained or non-sustained to "closed"--a ruling that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual status of the case but everything to do with removing complaints from the realm of public data, even if sustained and disciplined.

With 9 vacancies out of 11 positions, the board of the CRA is currently all but defunct. They haven't held a hearing since December. The city council will question applicants for the 9 open positions at a meeting tomorrow and we'll be monitoring the hearings to get a sense of these potential board members. However, even if all of the board positions are filled with people who believe in police accountability (which is highly improbable), by the time the new board is trained and begins hearing cases again--June or July at best--they will already be months behind.

The agency itself is chronically underfunded, with a terrible shortage of investigators. An outreach position mandated in the enabling ordinance for the CRA has never been funded. Thus, many in the community are not even aware of the existence of the CRA or how it operates. This is probably for the best, as the tiny staff of investigators is still working on cases from as far back as 2005 and 2006 and clearly can't deal with a workload commensurate with the actual numbers of brutality cases in the city.

Internal Affairs

Many people, perhaps swayed by TV shows or movies, harbor the idea that when something goes wrong with police they should run down to internal affairs to complain. In cities outside of Minneapolis, there generally isn't anywhere else to complain. However, in Minneapolis, Internal Affairs has traditionally been a politics-laden agency used by MPD leadership to handle internal personnel issues (like coming to work late) or to punish their political rivals. CUAPB analyzed 10 years worth of Internal Affairs complaints and found that the agency only upheld two complaints by community members out of the more than 900 complaints received from the community during that time. Further, CUAPB has documented multiple incidents of retaliation by police against people who have complained to Internal Affairs. As a result, we generally steer people away from complaining to IAD.

In recent years, the agency has cleaned up its act a bit under the leadership of Susan Piontek. IAD recently upheld an especially egregious complaint of excessive force against William Woodis--perhaps MPD's most brutal cop--and recommended termination. However, Chief Tim Dolan overruled IAD, showing that under this chief the agency lacks the power to make its recommendations stick.

Civil Rights Department

The Civil Rights Department has chugged along in the city for years, doing virtually nothing to uphold anyone's civil rights. The position of director of this agency has been a patronage job doled out by the mayor to loyalists who work hard at looking the other way while the city fails to uphold its own laws on granting contracts to minority and women-owned businesses. One of the most important ways to judge the effectiveness of a civil rights unit is to look at the dollar volume of civil rights judgments secured by the agency. In this regard, the Minneapolis department has an extremely anemic record as it pursues proportionately a much lower rate of cases and secures far fewer judgments than other agencies of similar size.

Under the weak leadership of current director Michael Jordan--a former St. Paul cop--the agency infuriated community members by ignoring complaints by five Black police officers, who are now suing the city. A few people we have worked with have tried to file civil rights complaints against police for patterns of racial profiling or harassment and have run into a brick wall. It has certainly been interesting, to say the least, to watch Jordan--a guy who should have at least a passing interest in civil liberties--sit in silence at the Free Speech Working Group meetings each month.

Police Community Relations Council

Perhaps the most dysfunctional body of them all is the PCRC. This is a grouping of representatives of the city and representatives of the community (that were mostly also hand-picked by the city) who were responsible for the disappointment known as the federal mediation agreement. For a detailed analysis of this agreement, go to http://www.charityadvantage.com/CUAPB/AnalysisofFedMedAgree.asp. From jump, this grouping had disaster written all over it. On one side sat city representatives who were far more interested in pushing the city's agenda and undermining the process than actually mediating to resolve problems. On the other side sat a few good people but far more people with serious ego issues and narcissistic tendencies. The community was, for the most part, left out in the cold and this is reflected in the poor quality agreement that was finally signed in December 2003. The agreement is set to expire at the end of this year and there has been almost no process on the points in the agreement, despite the fact that they didn't require the MPD to do all that much in the first place.

The community side of this equation voted unanimously on December 5, 2007 to sue the city for noncompliance with the mediation agreement and this was communicated to the city in January. However, behind the scenes some members of the community side started meeting with the city in defiance of the vote. At this point, it is not clear whether the community side has the wherewithal to go through with the lawsuit. If they don't, the mediation agreement will be just another set of broken promises to the community.

Where to from here?

In our next newsletter, we will examine the role of the courts and non-government organizations such as CUAPB in police accountability. We will also be able to report on the selection of CRA board members by the mayor and city council.


CRITICAL MASS: NOT GUILTY

By Katrina Plotz
April 15, 2008
http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/article/2008/04/14/critical-mass-not-guilty.html&print=1#

On April 14, after a week-long trial, Gus Ganley was found not guilty of charges stemming from last August’s clash between Critical Mass bike riders and Minneapolis police. On August 31, 2007, Gus Ganley was among 19 people arrested during Critical Mass, a bike ride that takes place on the last Friday of every month in Minneapolis. The August event, which drew hundreds of riders, included participants in the pReNC, a gathering organized by the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist/anti-authoritarian group planning protests at next fall’s Republican National Convention.

After being held overnight, the 19 were released and most had their charges dropped. It wasn’t until two weeks later that Ganley learned he was being charged with assaulting a police officer and obstructing the legal process using force – both gross misdemeanors and fleeing a police officer – a misdemeanor.

“My heart sank,” said Ganley, a twenty-one-year-old film student at the University of MN. “I couldn’t believe it.” If convicted, Ganley could have faced up to two years in jail and a $7,000 fine. He was offered a plea bargain that would have required him to plead guilty to one of the gross misdemeanor charges in order to have the other charges dropped.

“I never considered it,” said Ganley. “I wasn’t going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do.” The case went to trial last Monday and concluded yesterday when a jury found Ganley not guilty on all counts. Approximately ten supporters, many of whom were also present at the August Critical Mass, attended the trial and were on hand to congratulate Ganley after the verdict was announced.

“This is the result I was expecting,” said Ganley after the trial. “But you can’t be too confident. I never should have been here in the first place.”

Ganley, who was represented free of charge by National Lawyer’s Guild attorneys Jordan Kushner and Carla Magnuson, said he was fortunate that so many eyewitnesses testified. Several took photographs and cell phone video of the incident, which ultimately decided the case in Ganley’s favor.

“We were able to reach a verdict fairly quickly,” said an anonymous juror as she left the courtroom. “The defense had much stronger evidence on their side.”

The defense called a total of 11 witnesses who described the August Critical Mass ride as unusual from the beginning.

“There were three police cars following the ride and they were being unusually aggressive,” said Andy Fahlstrom, a witness for the defense. He said police used their sirens during the ride without explanation and said police drove their squad cars within inches of some cyclists. “A couple times, I asked them not to drive so close to people,” said Fahlstrom. “I felt like they were endangering people’s safety.”

Other witnesses testified that they immediately noticed a heavy police presence even before the ride began.

“In the past, we’ve sometimes had one police car monitor the ride from the back,” said Fahlstrom. “But this was different.”

Police Sergeant David Stichter, the first witness for the prosecution, testified that a task force was created to monitor the August 31 Critical Mass ride, which included three traffic enforcement officers, three intelligence officers in unmarked cars, and two officers in a state patrol helicopter. When asked if he was expecting trouble during the ride, Stichter testified that the task force was informed ahead of time that members of the RNC Welcoming Committee would be at the event. He was told to be prepared for “potential property damage or assaultive behavior,” and mentioned that officers from Ramsey County were present during the briefing. Supporters present at the trial speculated that Ramsey County officers were involved because police believed the August 31 Critical Mass had implications for the 2008 RNC in St. Paul.

Officers were already on hand for an informal meeting of cyclists in Loring Park around 6 pm on August 31. Participants shared flyers describing their rights as cyclists and as citizens when dealing with police. Before the ride began, a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee made an announcement about organizing workshops scheduled for the weekend and emphasized, “We want this to be a safe ride and we don’t want anyone to get arrested.”

Stichter described two incidents during the middle of the ride that eventually led to a larger confrontation between police and cyclists – one involving the attempted arrest of a biker who allegedly eluded the police, and another involving a rider who was apprehended by undercover officers, but released in a case of mistaken identity.

Stichter testified that as the ride approached the corner of Grant and LaSalle Avenues, he decided to arrest a cyclist who was “swerving back and forth in front of police cars.”

That individual was 17-year-old Isaac Siegel-Peter who testified during Ganley’s trial. “I was not intentionally blocking any police cars,” said Siegel-Peter. “I really had no idea why I was being arrested.”

As Siegel-Peter was led to a squad car in handcuffs, police arrested Critical Mass rider Paul Kristapobich who was asking what the charges were and using a voice recorder to document the incident.

After the second arrest, Stichter testified that cyclists surrounded police and began chanting, “Let him go!” and “What’s the charge?” At that point, officers issued a call for help and several squad cars arrived at the scene.

Gus Ganley observed the arrest of Kristapobich and was among the people calling for his release. Officer Richard Lillard, the second witness for the prosecution, testified that Ganley was told to “get back” and that he seemed to be “inciting the crowd.”

When asked if he grabbed anyone during the incident or used mace on anyone, Lillard denied it. Defense attorney Jordan Kushner then introduced three videos showing Lillard using mace, running into the crowd, and grabbing someone off of his bike and throwing him to the ground. The video also showed Lillard grabbing Ganley and shoving him backwards against a police car.

“When I was told to step back, I did,” said Ganley. “And I raised my hands to show I didn’t mean any harm. But I felt it was my right and my duty to stay at the scene and witness what was going on.” Ganley testified that after Lillard pushed him against the police car, he was sprayed with mace and could no longer see clearly. After being shoved again by Lillard, he said he was tackled by three officers, punched several times, and handcuffed.

Officer Craig Williams, the final prosecution witness, was one of the officers who responded to the call for help. He testified that after eluding Officer Lillard, Ganley “squared up with me and swung at my left shoulder, then attempted to flee before being placed under arrest.”

Testimony from all 11 eyewitnesses contradicted Williams’ account. “I never swung at an officer or tried to get away,” said Ganley. “It wasn’t even possible. I couldn’t see or breathe because of the mace and I couldn’t have fled. The police had control of me the whole time.”

Video evidence showed that Williams was one of the officers who wrestled Ganley to the ground, but that the assault that he described did not occur. About ten seconds elapsed between the moment Ganley was grabbed and maced by Lillard, and the time he was tackled by three officers. Williams is not visible in the video until Ganley is being taken to the ground. Photographs show Ganley being grabbed and later lying on his back holding his glasses, which broke during the encounter.

In closing arguments, Kushner described Ganley as a “victim of police brutality who was accused of three crimes he didn’t commit.” After Ganley’s arrest, several more people were arrested or maced and some were shot with Tasers. Many were confronted as they were attempting to walk away from the scene. One was arrested while talking on the phone with an attorney.

During deliberation, the jury requested to see the videos again and asked which officer Ganley was accused of assaulting, obstructing, and fleeing. After being told it was Williams, they deliberated about ten minutes and returned with a not guilty verdict for each of the three charges.

Amid hugs from supporters, Ganley thanked the witnesses especially those who provided visual evidence. “Without the photos and videos, who knows what would have happened,” said Ganley. “It’s scary that the cops can lie so easily and try to get away with it.”

Ganley’s father, Dan, was present throughout the trial and expressed relief and outrage after the result. “Seeing that video brought me to tears,” he said. “It’s terrible what the police did.” He said it was a blessing to hear several witnesses describe his son as kind, thoughtful person. “That was very joyful for me,” said the elder Ganley. “From what I know of my son, he wouldn’t assault anyone.” After the trial, father and son were eager to recover the $3,000 in bail the City has been holding since last August.

Of the 19 who were arrested August 31, only two cases remain open. Charges against Siegel-Peter and Kristapobich, the first two arrested, were dropped months ago. Defense attorney Carla Magnuson said she hoped the result of Ganley’s case would pressure the City to drop the charges against the two others.

“It’s a poor use of taxpayer dollars to try cases like this,” said Magnuson. “The charges were completely unfounded.”

A statement from a Critical Mass community support group described Ganley’s trial as an attempt to cover up police misconduct.

Steven Marsh, a writer for Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine, participated in the August Critical Mass ride and described police behavior as a “dress-rehearsal for the RNC.”

Supporter Karen Redleaf emphasized the importance of solidarity in the face of police repression. “Gus was the one they chose to pick on, but it could have been anyone. By standing up and saying ‘not guilty’ he said it for all of us.”

Katrina Plotz is a substitute teacher, a freelance writer and an anti-war activist. She lives in Bloomington.


POLICE TREATMENT OF MINORITIES PROTESTED

By LORA PABST, Star Tribune
March 20, 2008
http://www.startribune.com/local/north/16881526.html

Cars rushed by a small group of protesters outside of Brooklyn Park's Police Department on Thursday. Wind buffeted homemade signs that read "Stop cop harassment of kids" and "Leave our kids alone." Every few minutes a car would honk in support.

One of the protesters, Monika March, said that after police from the inner-ring suburb's department followed her 17-year-old son and questioned him about incidents he said he wasn't involved in, she began to realize she wasn't alone in her concern about Brooklyn Park police. She hopes the protest will help other parents step forward.

"Brooklyn Park is known for this problem," said March of Brooklyn Park. "I know this is not just happening to my son."

She was among a handful of people from Communities United Against Police Brutality demonstrating to draw attention to what they say is an increasing number of incidents targeting youth and people of color in the north metro suburb. The organization, which has brought attention to alleged police brutality in Minneapolis and St. Paul, says it is now reaching out to suburban residents who face similar situations.

The action comes about a month after Minnesota's sixth-largest city hired its first black police chief, Michael Davis. About 30 percent of Brooklyn Park's 72,000 residents are people of color.

"Brooklyn Park has been on our radar for a long time," said Michelle Gross, vice president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. After Minneapolis and St. Paul, her group gets its highest number of calls about alleged brutality from Brooklyn Park, she said.

Police respond

Davis said Thursday that his department hasn't received any allegations of police brutality. "We can't act on what we don't know," he said. "There are a number of ways people can get their message to me."

Brooklyn Park law-enforcement officials also pointed to programs that they have started to improve relationships with immigrants and teenagers.

"We have had a lot of dialogue and outreach going on in the community," said Capt. Greg Roehl. "It's disheartening that they wouldn't come forward to the administration and the department."

But Gross questioned whether those programs include opinions from young people of color. "It seems like you're doing good on one hand and undoing it on the other hand," she said. "One of the things that youth need to be heard about is their relationship with police."

Gross said the issue will only continue to grow in importance as Brooklyn Park, which is home to many immigrants, gets more diverse.

"Brooklyn Park has gone through a lot of changes and some of the people weren't ready for that change," Gross said. "We want to take our message to the community."

Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628


POLICE STATE UPDATE: THE WAR OF ERROR

By now we have all heard about the cases--people held in Guantanamo for years who have never had a thing to do with terrorism: farmers on their way to the market, neighbors turned over to the military for a bounty, etc. This article will look at two such cases a little closer to home.

Practice Makes Perfect? Trial #3 for the Liberty City Seven?

2nd Mistrial in The Miami Liberty Seven Case

A federal judge recently declared a mistrial in the second trial against six men accused of plotting to spark an anti-government war by toppling Chicago’s Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard ordered a mistrial April 16th when jurors reported they were hopelessly deadlocked after 13 days of deliberation in the case of the so-called “Liberty City Seven.” The first trial ended in a mistrial in December 2007 because of a hung jury for the same six defendants and the acquittal of a seventh. These mistrials stem from the fact that this case was a total setup from the start. The FBI created this "gang of seven" from thin air and now can't figure out how to make mythical charges stick.

The seven men started out as unemployed or underemployed slackers, hanging out in a basement, smoking pot, totally penniless, loudly complaining about the government (who doesn't?) and practicing their karate kicks and archery when an FBI operative found them. The FBI agent offered them money, a better place to hang out, and even handed them a "tape of an Al Qaeda swearing-in ceremony."

The men were then arrested, with feds proclaiming to eager media that they had arrested an "Al Qaeda cell on US soil." The feds even held up the tape they gave the men as "proof." They claimed the men planned to bomb certain targets but no proof of any such plans has ever materialized. Moreover, the Liberty Seven men appear to be low functioning individuals, barely able to hold down jobs let alone plot such attacks.

This case has gone through the court system twice, ending in mistrials both times--with juries deadlocked on the facts--though the first trial cleared one of the men. The feds want to take the case to trial a third time, in yet another travesty in the so-called "war on terror."

Cross Border Collusion: An Update on the Aaron James Story

Aaron James is a Canadian citizen who, along with his mother, came to the Mayo clinic in January 2006 seeking health care. Disappointed that doctors recommended against surgery for his painful arm condition, he boarded a Northwest Airlines plane at the Minneapolis airport for the flight back home. However, the post-911 political climate caught up to Aaron, who is of Afro-Caribbean descent. While waiting for the plane to take off, he set his carry on bag on the seat next to his mother and went to the restroom. While returning to his seat, he passed by a flight attendant, who said something to him that he didn't hear. A few minutes later, that same flight attendant approached him asking him if there was a problem. He repeatedly told her there was no problem but when she continued to harass him, he told her he would be filing a complaint.

Within minutes, five Minneapolis cops boarded the plane, grabbed Aaron and tased him repeatedly, causing him to fall to the floor and gash his head. He was hauled off to jail covered in Taser burns, cuts and bruises and was held for nine days under multiple felony charges. His mother witnessed the attack (police seemed genuinely surprised that there was a witness) and spent those days sleeping on a bench in the police station trying to bail out her son. While in jail, federal agents visited Aaron and asked him to identify men he had never met.

When the case finally made it to court, the prosecutor added a misdemeanor assault charge. A jury--stacked with relatives of Northwest Airlines employees and family members of cops--did not sustain the felony charges but upheld the misdemeanor charge. By that time, Aaron and his mother had spent over $25,000 defending him against bogus charges. Aaron and his mother have also been added to the "no fly" list and returned to Canada by bus. He was to have returned to the US for his sentencing hearing but physically, mentally and financially spent, he has not done so. Instead, he has taken up the work to clear his name by setting up a website (http://aaronjamesstory.com/), contacting political officials, and going on talk radio shows to tell his story.

Because his conviction is on a misdemeanor, Aaron is not extraditable to the US. Still, Winnipeg cops seem only too eager to help out their brothers to the south. They have repeatedly raided Aaron's home. In the most recent attack, six cops arrived at Aaron's door, guns drawn. They ransacked his apartment, taking his computer and other personal property. They did not have a search warrant. These same cops are being prosecuted for a similar unwarranted raid on another house. Aaron has been to court twice to get his property back and each time the cops have some excuse about not bringing the file with them to court. It is almost certain that Aaron's property was illegally sent to the US and cops are now trying to figure out how to cover that up.

The James family has lived a nightmarish existence for the two years since this incident occurred, never knowing when they will be attacked by police again. All because an oversensitive flight attendant with a hyped-up mix of patriotism, fear and racism targeted Aaron in the post-911 political climate. The James family--more victims of the backward "war on terror."


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