St. Paul Put To The (Pro)Test

August 30, 2008

The Republican National Convention is upon us, and here comes word that St. Paul police recovered slingshots, devices to disable buses, and urine by the gallon when raiding the so-called RNC Welcoming Committee’s hangout yesterday and today.  How disturbing.  To the degree that these folks have come to (or live in) our city to commit crimes, the effort should be condemned.  What a travesty for those of us who value free speech and free assembly.  What a shame that a few can ruin things for all of us.

However, lost amid all this are the reasons why so many people are so upset.  A war founded on faulty intelligence.  Failures to distinguish between Iraq and Afghanistan.  Guantanamo. Waterboarding.  Warrantless wiretapping.  No-bid contracts to rebuild the mess.  Not to mention a red herring called “drill here, drill now,” Swift Boating about Obama’s religious faith, and plummeting home values.  It could — it should — drive a sane person to the streets.

But thanks to the folks who have bred fears about criminal intent, downtown St. Paul resembles what used be East Berlin.  Have you been downtown?  I was, around 7:30 this morning, during an extended morning run.  I must admit, I was unprepared for what I saw.  Concrete barricades topped by chain-link fences that can accommodate razor wire on the top, darkened stoplights, a “FOX NEWS” sign that is a story tall, police officers at every corner, a camera on every streetlight.

This is St. Paul?  This is America?  What meaningful means do we normal folks have to invoke our First Amendment right to get the attention of the GOP power brokers who have a role in righting America?  For the next several days, none.

Most disturbing was what I saw at the Dorothy Day center, the large homeless shelter kitty-corner from the Xcel Energy Center.  They’ve wrapped the fences with a dark black fabric that almost entirely obscures the forms of the homeless human beings on the other side of the fence, human beings who inconveniently are just yards from the Best Politics That Money Can Buy.

I suppose it was done in the name of privacy for our neighbors who happen to have no homes.  How unfortunate it would be if a TV camera captured one of their images and beamed it into somebody’s living room.  How unfortunate for the unfortunate.  How unfortunate for St. Paul.  How unfortunate for the First Amendment.

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