ST. PAUL -- Police lost control of the anarchists during the RNC, and for the first time, police are offering a look at what went wrong, and how they may learn from their mistakes.
Police dispatch on the first day of the RNC reveal a communication breakdown for two crucial hours on Sept. 1.
Dispatch tapes show that between noon and 2:00 p.m., downtown belonged to the anarchists.
Tape: "Squads in my group, back off now, they're smashing out every squad car window around here."
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher says of the miscommunication, "We had 15 officers responsible for the conduct of 500 anarchists. They were outnumbered 40 to one."
And those officers, many fighting back without protective gear, had one question: Where was the backup?
The 11 mobile field force units, each with 75 officers in riot gear, were stationed along the parade route, where 10,000 protesters were marching peacefully.
At that time, about 500 anarchists split off in three directions, the town up for grabs. The cops were outmatched until the order was given to pull out.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington admits to a communication breakdown.
Commanders were watching the parade for trouble, when it was happening everywhere else.
Eventually the mobile field force moved into downtown, arresting 270 protesters the first day of the RNC.
"I think everyone agrees unlawful behavior should have been confronted, but it wasn't for two and half hours," said Fletcher.
Fletcher believes the error was strategic -- not enough plain-clothes cops along the parade route, and not keeping the mobile SWAT units moving.
But Chief Harrington believes they had enough cops from different cities, although maybe not enough time to train together on St. Paul's unique street pattern.
A task force is currently evaluating police actions during the RNC. It's report is due in December.
A fairly thrilling account of events from the other side's perspective, police reports confirm what anarchists had long believed -- the diverse and decentralized organizing spread the police thin throughout downtown St. Paul because they had no idea where the genuine threats would emerge. In this regard, the worry that was aroused at the spokescouncil the night before the 9/1 actions -- that several areas had insufficient numbers or no one whatsoever -- turned out to be a minor inconvenience, if that.
This scenario reminds me of something I was reading this weekend, a zine called something like "Beyond Affinity Groups," by Andrew Flood. The author mentioned that during anti-globalization movement, the affinity group/cluster model meant that the groups issuing statements or calling for actions were diffuse and largely anonymous; their ability to act didn't come from an overt or visible power or base but unseen networks and relationships. It was difficult to tell if a statement was actually made by a group or a lone weirdo in their basement.
For the police, this meant they were never exactly sure who or what to take seriously and it was impossible to predict numbers. Calls for "decentralized autonomous actions" often went unheeded, but occasionally did not. One particular meet-up point might attract only a few dozen folks, while a separate unannounced jump-off point could be swarming with hundreds of anarchists.
The RNC in St. Paul utilized this through the sector map -- dividing the city into loose regions which affinity groups would claim as their region for action. Some groups seem to have stuck closely within their sector while other roamed freely in and out of them as they please. Because no particular actions or levels of intensity were designated beforehand, it was even more difficult to determine where police presence would be needed the most. As it played out, the massive attention on the legal march apparently kept many of the heavily armed tactical units away from downtown. Several blockades attempted on the northwest side of the map -- notably Bash Back -- proved to be not much more than minor inconveniences on their own, but as a part of the larger strategy they kept a large contingent of riot police unavailable and far from more intense action.
The police structure inherently makes this impossible to deal with -- decisions being made at the top take longer to come together, whereas anarchists were able to decide immediately in small groups what to do based on their immediate situation. The picture I'm getting out of St. Paul seems to be that most attempts at solid blockades fell fairly quickly, and by 1:00pm groups began swarming from their own sectors into downtown around Sector 7. They came together and split up as the situation changed.