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What the Police Won’t Apologize For


In early September, St. Louis police will send an apology for their illegal arrest of biodiversity activists.  Be assured that it will not mention their role in destroying public dialogue on dangers of genetically contaminated food. 

 

On August 24, 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri announced that the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners would pay $13,500 to each of four anti-genetic engineering activists for violating their first and fourth amendment rights and would apologize to them for police actions in May, 2003. [1]  That was when several hundred people gathered to protest the World Agricultural Forum [WAF] and hold the 7th Biodevastation Gathering to expose the racist use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

 

But the letter of apology is highly unlikely to address the most serious aspects of the repression.  Do not expect the letter to say anything about helping to consolidate control of world agriculture and throw 1 billion people off of small farms.  Don’t look for the letter to mention the role of police in attempts to force genetically contaminated food on Africans with immuno-compromised health.  And don’t be surprised if the letter contains not a word about St. Louis police entering into a conspiracy with Monsanto, the FBI and corporate media to eliminate public discussion of the potential threats of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

 

St. Louis police were not stand-alone players.  As Daniel (digger) Romano wrote in the August 31 St. Louis Post-Dispatch “…Allied Intelligence [is] the private security agency hired by the WAF and its principle player, Monsanto, the biotech giant.  Allied Intelligence told police ‘50,000 anarchists’ were coming to St. Louis to riot and wreak havoc on the city.” [2]

 

The police apology will certainly misdirect attention onto its own illegal and repulsive behavior of May, 2003: warrantless entry into a home where a woman was subjected to “an unlawful and humiliating strip search,” a second warrantless entry under the false claim of the building being condemned, and arresting several activists for “riding a bicycle without a license,” a crime which did not exist. [1]

 

Under the FBI Eye

 

Preparations for the Biodevastation 7 Gathering started in 2002 when Jim Scheff, an organizer for the Missouri Forest Alliance, called to tell me that the WAF would be meeting in St. Louis the upcoming year.  He suggested that Biodevastation, which had been held in five cities after beginning in St. Louis in 1998, return to Monsanto’s home town so that people coming to WAF could hear a different view of biotechnology.

 

Documents obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that the FBI was deeply involved in scrutinizing many documents that I wrote for the event, including emails from my computer.  The ACLU judged the FBI reports to be some “of the most troubling documents we received.” [3]

 

A November 2005 cover letter from the FBI refers to “Subject: GATEWAY GREEN ALLIANCE/01012000 TO PRESENT,” indicating that we had been in FBI sights for years.  [4] Its first memo on “Counterterrorism” asserted that “The WAF was created to provide a continuing, neutral arena for the discussion of world agriculture…” Counterposed to the “neutral” WAF, the memo warned of “issue-specific terrorist groups…which oppose…the bio-engineering of plants and animals.”  [5]

 

What particularly worried authors of the memo was that “organizers from the Gateway Green Alliance, a local affiliate of the Green Party USA, have joined with member of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and are attempting to label the WAF as a ‘forum on environmental racism’ in an attempt to lure African-American groups.” [5]  (The authors probably meant to say “Biodevastation” rather than “WAF.”)

 

The memo observed that “no specific threats of violence or unlawful protest have been received.”  But its authors were disturbed that “protest organizers” might be “able to successfully promote a racial element to the forum…” [5]

 

Other FBI counterterrorism documents listed frightening people who hoped to speak at St. Louis, including Vandana Shiva, Percy Schmeiser, Mae-Wan Ho, Brian Tokar, Ignacio Chapela and Michael Hansen. [6]  Any defender of the Public Order must have been horrified to read in the captured documents of the threat to national security posed by the Caravan Across the Continent held in conjunction with Biodevastation: “The Caravan will be a month-long bicycle spectacle covering over 1000 puppet shows, presentations, speak-outs, freak-outs, clown acts, and music…”  It invited “citizens, clowns, puppeteers, bike riders, messengers, farmers” and urged everyone “to bring a bicycle and join the ride!” [7]

 

The FBI was most traumatized by information that “The May 2003 Biodevastation Gathering will be the cutting edge event defining links between racism and the biotechnology industry.”  Documents monitored by its sleuths uncovered plans for the event to “focus attention on efforts” to use “Food Aide as a weapon of narrow economic interests and to force genetically contaminated food on Africa.” [5]

 

Luckily, the FBI did not stand alone in efforts to protect good citizens.  FOIA reports confirm that the FBI had “been working with local police agencies to collect intelligence related to the WAF.” [7]  Not content to rely on local police, the FBI proudly documented collaboration with the private sector:

 

Corporate officials from Monsanto who monitor the Biodev website (www.biodev.org) allege that the speakers at the Biodev conference are against genetic engineering of any type, that they are outspoken critics of Monsanto and are extreme in their views. [7]

 

A Public Dialogue Cut Short

 

During weeks prior to Biodevastation 7, there were a few stories about the dangers of GMOs, but St. Louis media focused on police preparation for 50,000 anarchists to invade downtown.  They warned business owners to protect their property. 

 

Then, on the opening day of Biodevastation 7, the Mother of All Horrors occurred: There was an actual public debate on genetic engineering!  The only St. Louis daily paper, the Post-Dispatch, carried a front page story, “Focus on the future of agriculture.” It had an article describing the corporate view of the WAF on one side and another article reporting on Biodevastation on the other.

 

Not to worry.  St. Louis police, with backup from the FBI and Monsanto, had worked overtime to ensure that reporting would take a sharp turn.  Shortly after I got to the Gathering site and prepared to coordinate presentations, phone calls began pouring in that demonstrators were being arrested all over town. 

 

Members of the Flying Rutabaga Bicycle Circus were arrested for the fictitious crime of “riding a bicycle without a license.” About the same time, a building inspector nailed a “condemned” sign on a St. Louis home just before police pushed through the door and arrested those who had been planning to take part in weekend protests.  They were charged with “inhabiting a condemned building.”

 

Two hours later, police raided the Community Arts and Media Project (CAMP) building, which housed the St. Louis Independent Media Center, Green Party of St. Louis and several other groups, taking more to jail. Sarah Bantz, organizer for Missouri Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (MoRAGE), which was coordinating the demonstration planned at the WAF, was pulled over while driving to give a talk at the Gathering.  Her vitamin A was seized as a possible illegal drug and she was taken to jail for not wearing a seatbelt.

 

As I tried to make sure that speakers (minus Sarah Bantz) were there, that panels could start on time, and that lunches were on their way, I was called by one reporter after another.  With the lurid drama rivaled only by stories of a US politician whose weenie went where it wasn’t supposed to go, corporate media had turned on a dime.  Dangers of genetic engineering were far from their minds as reporters drooled at the prospect of a story on demonstrator violence.

 

Police Chief Mokwa egged on the frenzy.  He held a press conference to display the “weapons” seized during the raids: rocks, roofing nails, torches and Molotov cocktails.

 

By the next day, it became apparent that the rocks were paperweights; the roofing nails were to repair a leaky roof; and the torches were flaming batons of the Bicycle Circus. When the St. Louis Independent Media Center website posted an eyewitness report of a cop putting toilet paper or a rag in a beer bottle, all press reports of “Molotov cocktails” disappeared — as if they had never been mentioned. The “weapons” charges were the first charges dropped against those arrested.

 

Of course, throughout the events, the only potential violence discussed was that of demonstrators. When reporters asked me about potential violence, I never hesitated to point out that “There is a real threat of lawlessness when the WAF is controlled by Monsanto, a company that lawlessly trespasses on the land of farmers like Percy Schmeiser, criminally steals samples of crops and violently drops pesticide bombs on their fields to test if their crops are Roundup-resistant.”

 

Reporters would tell me that that was not what was meant.  They wanted to know if there was a threat of violence during the demonstration set for May 18.  I always responded “Yes, there is a real threat of violence. When public safety is put in the hands of a police chief who has condoned the police murder of over a dozen black youth in recent years, the city should be concerned.”

 

Predictably, the press had zero interest in reporting on corporate or state violence.  Their prewritten script was to interview one side predicting that demonstrators would be violent and “balance” it with a few seconds of an organizer denying the charge.

 

Police Attacks

 

Police attacks on protestors were illegal, traumatic and disruptive to planned events.  Kelley Meister wrote in detail of her ordeal.  The night before her home was invaded, “police had been circling our house relentlessly, following my friends home, and harassing them on the street, and I had feared waking up to the police knocking down my door.” [8]  After breakfast the next morning, a police car pulled up.

 

Two police officers pushed past me to enter the house, and I asked if they had a warrant.  When they said, “No,” I stated that I did not give them permission to enter my house, and I again asked for a warrant.  The officers told me that a warrant was not necessary because this was a condemned building. [8]

 

After being arrested and put in a police van, Meister

 

…watched many cops enter and exit our house, most notably, an officer carrying a piece of art ripped down off the wall from my room.  The cops also stole many other people’s personal items such as journals, posters, props for the circus and puppet shows, welding tools, roofing nails, and all of our bicycles that were in the building.  The bicycles were eventually returned with slashed tires, but most of the other stuff that was stolen is either “missing” or being held as evidence. [8]

 

When allowed to return home several days later, she found

 

The house was trashed.  In my bedroom, shelves had been disassembled or knocked over, boxes of oil paints and other art supplies dumped out, my large reading chair was on its side and in the middle of the room, personal items were smashed, and a pile of my clothes that had been dumped from a small cabinet… [8]

 

Meister and a housemate found “their clothes were drenched in urine,” compliments of St. Louis police. [9]  When it apologizes for “well-intentioned mistakes,” the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners should explain how urinating on clothes is both well-intentioned and a mistake.

 

What Corporate Media Didn’t Report

 

By the second day of Biodevastation 7, the mania had died down. The Post-Dispatch was even mildly critical of what it called “pre-emptive” arrests. But the press never returned to a discussion of how genetic engineering threatens human health, pollutes the environment, and prepares for agro-business domination of Africa. What remained was a debate of whether the police had “overreacted.”

 

Two photographs from the Fall 2003 Synthesis/Regeneration illustrate the bizarre unreality of the police/media fantasy.  The back cover has a photo of the main post office in downtown St. Louis, which was boarded up to protect it from marauding anarchist hordes.  On p. 2 is a photo of a security guard with so little to do at Biodevastation 7 that she is playing with the children of those listening to talks.

 

Though the PATRIOT Act made crackdowns at events like Biodevastation 7 easier, such actions existed long before 9-11.  The hysteria generated by police departments is reminiscent of “red scares” of the 1920s and phobic reaction to black organizing that white Americans have felt through the centuries. When Jamala Rogers of the Organization for Black Struggle introduced the Environmental Racism panel at Biodevastation 7, the police raids were at the top of the news.  She commented that “You are seeing what black people in St. Louis experience on a daily basis.”

 

One of the vitally important presentations that police raids knocked out of media attention was that by Mwananyanda Lewanika of Zambia’s National Institute for Scientific & Industrial Research.  The previous year, US trade representatives had bitterly denounced Zambia for rejecting genetically engineered (GE) corn to feed its hungry.  Lewanika traced the origin of hunger in Zambia to the Structural Adjustment Program of the 1990s that “stopped government involvement in agricultural production.” [10]  With government assistance gone, small farmers in southern Zambia could not meet the food needs of their region.  Since there was an abundance of food in the northern part of the country, the West could have helped Zambia improve the infrastructure of roads.

 

But that would have made Zambia more independent of the West rather than dependent on it.  So the US offered to donate surplus GE corn.  Zambian scientists replied that (a) GE corn might contain food toxins or allergens, (b) effects would be particularly serious in Zambia since corn comprised up to 80% of the diet, and (c) effects would be most severe on the most vulnerable — the young, old and immuno-compromised, which is a large population in southern Africa.  Though plenty of non-GE corn was available and could have been donated, the US insisted on offering only the corn that was offensive to Zambians and then denounced them for not accepting it. [10]

 

Marching Onward

 

By shifting attention to a manufactured threat of terrorism, the hysteria ensured that discussion of efforts to force GE corn on Africa would not reach public awareness.  This puts the six year old belated apology by the St. Louis Police Department (SLPD) in a different light.

 

The St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners claimed that the raids were a “mistake” even though police acted “with well intentions.” [9]  The 2009 apology spins the myth that the SLPD acted on its own volition.

 

But the FBI documents paint a very different picture.  They suggest that the most likely course of events was:

 

A. The Monsanto/WAF/Allied Intelligence troika contacted…

 

B. the FBI, which contacted…

 

C. the SLPD, which pumped fantasies to…

 

D. the St. Louis media, which eliminated a nascent dialogue on GMOs and focused exclusively on the illusory anarchist invasion.

 

Far from being the key culprit, the SLPD was targeted to take the rap.  It was a pawn in a far bigger game of using genetic engineering to destroy small farmers across the globe. 

 

Describing police activities during 2003 as “mistakes” continues the campaign of misinformation.  Their attacks were no “mistake.”  They were a vital element in shifting the public eye away from what agribusiness planned for Africa, Asia and Latin America.

 

Anyone who seriously believes actions by the SLPD were mistakes should let us know how often police departments invade offices such as Monsanto World Headquarters, piss on tuxedos of corporate executives, steal their electronic equipment, tell the press to print front page stories of corporate terrorists, and arrest corporate officers for possession of vitamin A.

 

If 100% of such police attacks are against those resisting corporate power and 0% of police violence is against corporations, then a reasonable person might conclude that the function of police is to protect corporate power.  This is quite a bit different from accounts of the police being a neutral party that occasionally makes the “mistake” of “preemptive” attacks.

 

We should applaud each of the plaintiffs against the SLPD receiving $13,500.  But rather than clearing the air, the police apology serves to further mystify the 2003 web of intrigues.  For the corporations that move pawns around, the 2009 apology is merely a tiny step backward in their continuing march to subjugate world agriculture.

 

Don Fitz is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is published for members of The Greens/Green Party USA.  If you know of where to find a horde of 50,000 anarchists, please contact him at fitzdon@aol.com

 

Notes

 

1. American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. (August 24, 2009). ACLU applauds police apology to protestors. Press Release.

 

2. Daniel (digger) Romano.  (August 31, 2009). Letter to the Editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, p. A11.

 

3. American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. (Janaury 27, 2006).  Letter to Barbara Chicherio and Don Fitz.

 

4. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (November 15, 2005). Letter to Denise D. Lieberman, American Civil Liberties Union. FOIPA No. 1021258-000.

 

5. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (April 9, 2003). Counterterrorism memo. Case ID No: 300A-SL-188478.

 

6. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (May 8, 2003). Counterterrorism memo. Case ID No: 300A-SL-188478.

 

7. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (April 15, 2003). Counterterrorism memo. Case ID No: 300A-SL-188478.

 

8. Kelley Meister. (Fall, 2003). Report from the Bolozone. Synthesis/Regeneration, 32, pp. 5–7.

 

9. Patrick O’Connell. (August 25, 2009). City police apologize for raids in 2003.  St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pp. A1, A9.

 

10. Mwananyanda Lewanika. (Fall, 2003). The real story behind the food crisis in Zambia. Synthesis/Regeneration, 32, pp. 12–14.

 

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