From Seattle to Genoa: Spies and Billy Clubs Against the Resisters

By Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1147, April 21, 2002, posted at

It was early morning, July 22, 2001. Protesters at the Diaz school in Genoa, Italy were trying to get some sleep after two days of intense protests during a summit of the G-8 countries. Suddenly, Italian federal police burst into the school. Other cops blocked the entrance, while a helicopter swooped in low. Jolted awake, people raised their hands and called out "Pacifisti!," to let police know they were non-violent. But police ignored their pleas and attacked without mercy. People were savagely beaten with batons for 45 minutes. Horrified witnesses outside heard screams of terror and pain. After the beating at least 20 people were carried out of the school, many on stretchers. Three were beaten unconscious. Pools of blood covered walls and floors.

During the protests in Genoa, police shot and killed 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani, who courageously stood up against police violence. In June 2001, three protesters were murdered and 17 wounded by police fire at protests against IMF/World Bank-mandated privatization plans in Papua, New Guinea. The same month, police wounded demonstrators in Gothenburg, Sweden. At least 22 people were killed in the mass upsurges in Argentina last December. In March 2002, security guards at the World Trade Center in Quito, Ecuador wounded two demonstrators protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

At mass protests in Seattle and Quebec City, demonstrators and many others have been poisoned with chemical weapons and shot with rubber bullets. Protesters against the World Economic Forum in Cancun, Mexico were brutally beaten by police and suffered broken ribs and skulls, and other injuries.

From Seattle to Genoa, from Washington DC to massive protests in March in Barcelona, governments and police agencies have coordinated efforts to try and stop the growing movement against capitalist globalization. Police have arrested thousands, harassed and raided independent media, and targeted medics, legal observers and communications teams for arrest and brutality. Preemptive strikes have shut down organizing spaces and targeted protest leaders. In jail, activists have been brutalized and denied access to lawyers, medication, and at times food and water. Websites and e-mails have been spied on. Police have surveiled and disrupted protest events, while trying to make it illegal for activists to protect their identity with bandannas and masks.

The following article chronicles several of the major instances of repression that have been carried out against the movement challenging the crimes of global capitalism in the last few years.

Seattle 1999--The Lie of "Stopping the Violence"

"One thing the WTO showed is that... they say you have all this freedom in America, but as soon as you try and use it--you find out it doesn't actually exist at all."

Resident of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle

Since the huge protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in November of 1999, police forces worldwide have used the "violence in Seattle" to justify all kinds of repression. But the truth is, the Seattle police launched their violent attack hours before a single window was broken by protesters. Outmaneuvered and overwhelmed, the police then brutalized anyone in their path on orders from the highest offices in the land. But their efforts to stop tens of thousands from standing up for the planet and the world's poor were unsuccessful.

It was 10 a.m. on November 30, 1999 on 6th Avenue. The people held Seattle's streets and WTO delegates weren't getting through. Cops dressed in riot gear began pepper-spraying and firing tear gas at people blocking the streets. An anarchist described to the RW the police assault that followed:

"The front line was a group of senior citizen women holding a banner. When the police came across that line they clubbed those women like they weren't people, like they weren't alive. And they shot everybody with those plastic bullets and rubber bullets...just brutal attacks on women, children, everybody- -all non-violent activists. Nasty stuff. Kicking, hitting people with batons."

That afternoon then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, trapped in her downtown Seattle hotel, called Washington Governor Gary Locke and angrily demanded he clear the streets. Attorney General Janet Reno also phoned Locke and told him to call out the National Guard. Secret Service officials told local officials that unless the streets were pacified, President Clinton's visit would be canceled. In the police war rooms a plan was devised to unleash massive brutality at what the officials knew were overwhelmingly non-violent (but effective) mass protests.

Protesters had locked themselves together with chains and pvc pipes or linked arms. Police ripped the goggles and bandannas off the blockaders and forcibly pepper-sprayed people in the face and eyes. Some protesters were shot with rubber bullets at point blank range, causing broken teeth and facial wounds. For two days police tear-gassed protesters and bystanders alike. On December 1, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, hundreds poured out of their homes. People out to take in dinner or a movie found themselves running from police firing rubber bullets. In the back alleys, police cornered people and beat them while news cameras turned away.

Tear gas masks used by people to defend themselves were declared illegal, and 50 square blocks in downtown Seattle were declared a "no protest zone." Cops even grabbed political buttons and signs from people trying to enter the zone. A Black City Council member was stopped and harassed, prompting him to remark that to the police on that day, he was "just another n*gger." Hundreds were swept off the streets in mass arrests. Eventually almost all charges were dropped because police hadn't bothered to even document what people had supposedly done. Despite this and more, courageous resisters delivered the WTO a defeat by thoroughly disrupting their meeting.

April 2000 Protests in DC--Preemptive Strikes, Dirty Tricks and Mass Arrests

After "the battle in Seattle" every police force where major protests against globalization were planned vowed, "there will be no repeat of Seattle." Protests against meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington DC in April of 2000, (called A16 by organizers) became the next major showdown.

DC police had observed events in Seattle and gathered intelligence on activists. They coordinated efforts with the Secret Service, U.S. marshals, FBI, DC National Guard and military police. 5,000 cops and soldiers were mobilized, trained and outfitted with new riot gear, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, batons, guns and military assault vehicles. This heavily equipped army and police spies were set against 25,000 protesters, whose main plans consisted of non-violent street blockades and marches.

The day before the main blockades were to happen, police shut down the protesters' organizing convergence center based on phony fire code violations. Officials told the press that a Molotov cocktail had been found in the center. The press dutifully reported police lies about the "violent" intentions of activists. The "Molotov cocktail" turned out to be paint rags in a bottle. The same day a legal march to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and to condemn the criminalization of youth and the racist prison system was surrounded by police. Police arrested the entire march of 600 people in order to get people off the streets before the next day. Activist groups exposed the police lies through press conferences and their own media and quickly got another organizing center up and running.

On April 16 and 17, activist blockades near the IMF/World Bank headquarters were rammed with vans and attacked with police baton charges and pepper spray. Activists wearing black were specially targeted. A total of 1,300 people were arrested during the days of protest. Out of all these arrests the police got few if any convictions, showing the blatantly repressive nature of the arrests. In jail youth stood up to assault and humiliation by U.S. marshals.

A story emerged from the A16 protests of police spying and a dirty tricks campaign against the groups organizing against the IMF/World Bank. A USA Today story revealed that police had identified a number of activists from videotapes of protests in Seattle and were following them around the city. The article reported that police monitored 73 protest web sites to spy on protest plans and had gone online posing as protesters. Students at American University and George Washington University who supported A16 reported their phone and emails being tapped and undercover cops showing up to meetings and events. Police officials in the DC area also harassed people who provided housing for activists, and forced copy shops to close to prevent activists from reproducing leaflets.

Convention Wars--the RNC

The summer following the A16 protest in DC, there were major confrontations at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Youth, students, global justice protesters, environmentalists, poor proletarians, anarchists and revolutionaries united to challenge police brutality, the death penalty and political repression; fight to free Mumia and other political prisoners; and condemn global oppression.

In Philadelphia, a 16-member police "executive committee" made up of the FBI, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Philly cops and Pennsylvania state police was set up to coordinate the government's attacks on demonstrators.

A major political police spying campaign was undertaken. Philly police had gone to Seattle, DC and New York to monitor previous demonstrations. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer , "Officers built intelligence portfolios, with much of the information available on Web pages put up by protest groups. The officers also monitored discussions among protesters in Internet chat rooms." Philly undercover agents with cameras spied on activists at meetings. The purpose of all this spying was to gather information for disruption and attack.

Key protest leaders were targeted for arrest on the streets during the height of the protests on August 1st while they either were standing on the street or at protests. John Sellars of the Ruckus Society, which trains people in non-violent civil disobedience, was arrested on several misdemeanor charges and given an original bail of one million dollars . Others were held on $500,000 bail. Bail for such offenses is normally in the range of $10,000.

The Philly District Attorney declared at Sellars' bail hearing that Sellars facilitated "the more radical elements to accomplish their objective of violence and mayhem" and that "He sets the groundwork. He sets the stage." Police Commissioner Timoney and Mayor Street called for federal investigations into protest groups and possible federal conspiracy charges. The authorities were aiming to criminalize protest in general and cause different sections of the movement to fight and point fingers. They wanted to force the civil disobedience people to distance themselves from radical anarchists and other anti- capitalists, making them pay a high price if they didn't.

The authorities used undercover police to set up a raid carried out on August 1, shutting down a warehouse where people were making large protest puppets. All 75 people at the warehouse were arrested and the police destroyed the puppets. Pennsylvania state police posed as union carpenters to infiltrate the puppet makers and gather intelligence to justify a "search warrant," leading to the raid. News of the spying operation came out in an affidavit filed in court by Pennsylvania state police. The affidavit tried to cast protest activities such as blocking traffic and monitoring of police tactics in a criminal light. Over the several days of protest at the RNC, Philadelphia police arrested 479 people. In jail, activists were brutalized. Released protesters said people were getting choked, dragged naked, and having their faces smashed into the ground.

Quebec City--Walls and Chemical Warfare

In April 2001 people poured into Quebec City to confront the leaders of 34 nations of the Americas and protest the intensifying exploitation by imperialism through the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--a proposed free trade agreement that basically would expand NAFTA throughout all the Americas. Tens of thousands, mainly youth, confronted 6,000 local, provincial and federal riot police backed by the Canadian Armed Forces.

The governments of Canada and Quebec developed the largest peacetime security operation in the country's history to suppress the protests and defend the summit. Four square miles of the heart of the old city of Quebec were walled off with a chain link fence. Only people living inside the area with proof of residency could get in. Activists were visited and questioned by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) about protest plans. The RCMP attempted to rent all the hotel rooms in a 55 square mile radius to prevent protesters from having housing.

Canadian and U.S. authorities shared information on political opponents. Some with a history of political arrests in the U.S. and many who were suspected of going to the protests were prevented from crossing the border. City councils in Quebec and neighboring St. Foy passed bylaws prohibiting the wearing of scarves during the demonstrations, but were forced to back down when thousands said they would defy the laws.

On April 20, youth tore down parts of the hated fence surrounding the summit. Tear gas canisters and heavy plastic bullets were shot at people at close range. Young people were blasted with water cannons. Massive tear gas attacks followed that poisoned much of the student and working class neighborhood of St. Jean Baptiste. Protesters were knocked unconscious and suffered broken bones and many other injuries due to the police attacks. In response the youth fought back with rocks, bottles, Molotov cocktails, and burning barricades.

Genoa--Police Murder and Fascist Terror

Police preparations and response reached fascistic levels for the G-8 summit in Genoa in July of 2001. 20,000 heavily armed riot police and army troops were deployed. A barricaded "red zone" protected government big-wigs who met in a 13th-century palace. British Prime Minister Tony Blair demanded a "robust response" from the cops to the protests.

Italian authorities blocked thousands of activists from entering the country at the border and sealed off Genoa's harbor, airport and most train stations. Surface-to-air missiles were placed at the Genoa airport.

From July 20 to the 22nd, fierce street battles erupted as tens of thousands of protesters tried to penetrate the fenced-in red zone. Police tear gas and baton charges were met with young rebels pelting police with cobblestones and Molotov cocktails. On the afternoon of July 20, a member of the hated Italian federal police, the Carabinieri, shot and killed a young protester, Carlo Giuliani. After shooting Carlo in the head, the cowardly police ran over his body trying to escape from the outraged crowd.

Two days later the raid on protesters at the Diaz school took place. The police claimed the raid was to search for weapons and "violent protesters." But they knew full well the school was a center used by the Genoa Social Forum, a broad grouping of non-violent organizations. Like in Philadelphia, Seattle and DC, Italian officials wanted to strike terror into the hearts of activists whose main form of protest is marching or civil disobedience, to make them distance themselves from the more militant activists. Then the militants could be cut off from support and more easily crushed. But the raids set off a firestorm of condemnation of the police and their government backers.

In the jails arrested protesters were beaten and terrorized. Some young women were forced to stand for 19 hours with their arms lifted. Tear gas was thrown into cells, forcing one prisoner to vomit blood. There were many reports of police forcing the arrested to swear allegiance to the Italian fascist leader Mussolini or sing fascist songs.

In February of 2002, Italian police raided several social center offices related to Italy Indymedia (a progressive internet news site), seizing computers, archives and other materials. Genoa district attorneys had ordered the raids. Officials claimed this outrageous police repression was to gather information for inquiries into police violence during the G-8 protests.

The Post 9/11Repressive Context

In the wake of 9/11, politicians and media analysts have tried to paint the youth who oppose capitalist globalization as having similar goals, or as part of the same political "continuum," as the September 11 attackers--ruling their political views out of order.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in September, "Terrorists hate the ideas America has championed around the world. It is inevitable that people will wonder if there are intellectual connections with others who have turned to violence to attack international finance, globalization and the United States." An article in the New York Daily News called protesters against the World Economic Forum "wackos" and warned them not to "terrorize" New York. The article threatened any disruption would result in protesters getting their "anti-globalization butts whipped." At the beginning of February New York police attacked protesters marching against the WEF and arrested 200.

After Gothenburg, Genoa, and 9-11, European Union (EU) officials have stepped up their efforts against the anti-globalization movement. Even before these events EU police agencies compiled protester databases and prevented people from crossing borders to go to protests. And according to the organization Statewatch, a group of lawyers and others that monitor state attacks on civil liberties in the EU, the EU has further plans. One allows EU member states to create national databases of "troublemakers" based on suspicion and to pass laws preventing people from going to protests in other countries if they've been recorded as "suspects" or " convicted of minor public order offenses"--like obstructing the highway. Other EU proposals and plans are being discussed trying to link radical youth to "terrorism" and to increase EU-wide joint policing of summits and international meetings.

In light of the further criminalization of protest and dissent since 9-11, exposing these attacks is even more important.

The U.S. imperialists are trying to enforce a police-state atmosphere where if you object to state investigation or surveillance, "you must have something to hide" and if you are simply accused by them, the rights supposedly guaranteed to everyone no longer apply. Further, the government's logic is that "a terrorist is anyone we say is a terrorist" and if you defend yourself from state attack, you must be a terrorist. This increasingly fascistic logic must be opposed. People need to defend the right and ability of political opponents of the system to resist government attacks.

The story of the war on protesters against capitalist globalization reveals how much those who hold power need to defend the current order of poverty, inequality and domination by the few over the many -- by any means necessary. But despite all the attacks, the movement continues to press ahead. In New York, Argentina, Ecuador, and recently at protests against the EU summit in Barcelona in March, hundreds of thousands have confronted the crimes of capitalism in the streets. Now, as the repression is intensified, we need to fight hard to get the real story out--of how the imperialists are engaged in daily terrorism against the people of the world and how they are unleashing their police and armed forces against those fighting against this unjust global exploitation. We must rally many more to stop the repression directed at those who dream of--and dare to fight for--a better world.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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