I am grateful for the Socialist organisation in Ireland called Eírígí for this piece for more on them check.www.eirigi.org
Independent Media - A Threat to the State?
As the mainstream, international news media dedicates hours of TV coverage and acres of newsprint to the US Republican National Congress taking place in St Paul, Minnesota, little, if any, mention will be made concerning the hidden, parallel operation being mounted by armed police on the civil liberties of independent press and other political activists before and during that Convention.
Both the FBI and Minneapolis police have targeted independent media journalists in the days leading up to the Republican Convention, in an attempt to obstruct alternative media coverage of protest events being planned near the convention centre.
On Saturday (August 30), up to 20 St Paul police officers, carrying firearms (including at least one AR-15 automatic rifle), tasers, pepper spray and accompanied by the FBI, surrounded a house at Iglehart Avenue. Inside were members of the New York city-based I-Witness Video collective and journalist Elizabeth Press from 'Democracy Now'.
Sarah Coffey, a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild, which represents over 4,000 legal practitioners across the US, was detained in handcuffs outside the building while attempting to liaise with the police as they tried to serve a search warrant that had the wrong address. After being denied entry they stormed the building through the attic, having gained access from an adjacent property. The warrant covered searching of all types of journalistic equipment, including privileged notes, computers, cameras, videotapes and communication devices. People inside were forcefully detained, handcuffed and photographed by police. After the search, the police released all detainees and left without confiscating any items.
Five other members of I-Witness Video who were not present at the house were detained simultaneously in what was clearly a coordinated and well-planned operation. Three of them were detained while riding their bicycles a mile away from the house search and the other two as they were driving in a car. The raid and detention of the independent media journalists prevented the group from documenting three other synchronised raids happening against activist groups in Minneapolis and St Paul.
And it was exactly for this reason – to prevent I-Witness Video from recording the other raids against those activist groups – that the raid on Iglehart Avenue was mounted.
I-Witness Video was formed in an attempt to protect civil liberties in the US and to probe various police actions at public events. I-Witness Video has uncovered perjury and abuse by police officers and prosecutors, revealed illegal police surveillance, exposed official lies, and has had a number of notable successes.
One of the founders of I-Witness Video, Eileen Clancy, is well known in many nationalist communities across the Six Counties. Eileen was one of the regular international observers who travelled to Ireland from the US during the mid-1990s in response to an appeal from within those beleaguered communities for human and civil rights NGOs to come and monitor and report on the situation on the ground.
Eileen and others were extremely effective in ensuring the documentation, through the use of both video and stills photography, of many of the worst excesses of violence being inflicted on both the Garvaghy Road and Ormeau Road communities during the “Orange marching season”. Eileen also travelled to other communities in many other parts of the Six Counties to ensure that what was occurring in those communities was also recorded by video.
She and her colleagues proved to be an invaluable resource to many communities at that time and in subsequent years.
These independent watchdog groups are a positive and important presence. They need to be able to function free from fear of harassment and arrest for simply documenting police actions against protests, because the mainstream media so rarely covers them. Activists in the US and in Ireland need to be able to document what is happening around them for the benefit of the community at large. Whether in St Paul or in Rossport, it's essential that all voices be permitted to speak and be heard so that citizens can educate themselves and come closer to understanding the objective truth behind different events.
Interviewed at the beginning of August, Eileen Clancy offered this advice:
“The [federal] government is trying to criminalize video because it has tremendous power to expose bad acts by the police and federal agents. The best way for people to document police misconduct is to band together in video activist groups such as I-Witness Video, work in pairs or affinity groups, protect their footage by making back-up copies, publish their work in the media or on the Internet, and vigorously challenge any arrests, detentions and police orders to erase photos or videotapes.”
In a world of increased attacks upon civil liberties by the state, of increasing restrictions on the right to peacefully protest or to engage in civil disobedience, those resisting need to make full use of, and to protect, the independent alternative media. Activists who engage in protest across Ireland are no exception to this.
For information about I-Witness, go to http://iwitnessvideo.info/about/index.html