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Political Prosecutions in St. Louis

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A high ranking government official was quoted some time ago on the political marriage of public relations and governmental control regarding the "rule of law.' Simply put, this official flatly stated that:
"It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion." (author name withheld until the end of this article)

In direct opposition to this politically incestuous arrangement, a rather infamous political activist gave a different viewpoint on the role of government, police and constitutional freedoms. In the language of a true revolutionary he claimed that:

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government." (author name temporarily withheld)

Both quotes have a direct relation to a case coming to trial in St. Louis, which began last summer during the media circus otherwise known as the "healthcare town hall meetings." Mainstream coverage of these events featured angry people in school auditoriums screaming about the healthcare crisis in America. In St. Louis, US Congressman Russ Carnahan held such a meeting in the heart of St. LouisCounty, 3rd district.

Activists from the Tea Party Movement were present in droves alongside more progressive groups such as Healthcare NOW, Democracy For America and union groups representing healthcare workers, primarily the SEIU, local #1.

Put bluntly, the demographics favored the Tea Party, with the crowd being majority white and a small group of African-American individuals. This description is relevant in terms of the history of St. Louis, a history rich in institutional racism and police abuse. This is the city of Dred Scott. The underground railroad goes through the heart of downtown, and slaves were openly sold on the steps of the "old courthouse." Housing patterns still follow racially segregated lines. True to form, this crowd included vendors selling political memorabilia, including "don't tread on me," flags and buttons with President Obama's image in minstrel white- face, or with the president smoking dope. Ironically, these trinkets were being offered by an African-American man named Kenneth Gladney, who is a self-avowed "black conservative.'

Another African-American man, Reverend Elston McGowan, was offended by these materials. So were his SEIU colleagues (McGowan is an SEIU official for Local #1), and several friends including Mr. Brian Matthews and Ms. Javonne Spitz.

By the end of the day, Reverend McGowan, Perry Molens (another SEIU member), Brian Matthews and Javonne Spitz were arrested on charges ranging from 3rd degree assault, resisting arrest and "interfering with police officer." In addition, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman was also arrested for "resisting arrest," and "INTERFERING WITH POLICE OFFICER." Wagman's sole crime was attempting to cover the altercations and confusion of the day.

In short, McGowan and Gladney got into a verbal sparring match over Gladney's inflammatory materials. Multiple people began to yell and both men separated. Later in the evening, McGowan and Gladney argued again, and in a YouTube video, a scuffle ensued. Frankly, I've seen two 8 year old boys fight better. From the video, McGowan is on the ground being kicked and Gladney is up and about. Gladney is the African-American man in the beige shirt looking quite able bodied. The videos being circulated on the web are so visually confusing that the evidence of wrongdoing is inconclusive.

Ms. Spitz attempted to photograph police behavior and was ordered to stop. She continued and was threatened with arrest, and after another verbal threat by county police was thrown on the ground, maced and cuffed. Police obviously felt threatened by Spitz, all 4 feet, 9 inches of her. Here is the video. (http://www.24thstate.com/2009/08/arrest-video-of-carnahan-crew-members-brian-matthews-and-javonne-spitz.html) Matthews came to her assistance, attempting to clarify the situation and was forced face first on the ground and cuffed. Wagman was arrested for covering the events, even though he was cooperating with police. When asked to back away, Wagman complied, but was eventually arrested for the crime of journalism. It should be noted that many Tea Party members were also photographing events and NONE OF THE TEA PARTY MEMBERS WERE ARRESTED. THEY WERE LISTED AS WITNESSES. In fact, most of the You Tube videos documenting police abuse were ironically taken by Tea Party activists, again, none of whom were arrested. (Source: http://www.24thstate.com/2009/08/arrest-video-of-carnahan-crew-members-brian-matthews-and-javonne-spitz.html). When the police report was obtained, some witness last names were blacked out.

Just on the facts, St. Louis County Prosecutor Patricia Redington must know she has no case. In the event she is unsure, I'll outline the problems:

1.) The YouTube videos , the only concrete and impartial evidence--are inconclusive. The videos are so difficult to view that no evidence of guilt is clearly visible, other than the guilt of county police arresting people for constitutionally protected actions such as taking photos.

2.) Police bias enters the picture. Differential treatment for the same actions has not been addressed. None of the Tea Party activists were arrested, though they photographed police in action, and they participated in a verbal mob attack - only those who were clearly identified as SEIU union members or progressive healthcare activists were targeted.

3.) Between the videos which are inconclusive in terms of assessing any logical timeline of events (much less guilt), and the use of "hearsay' accusations in a racially tainted crowd--the police had no legitimate grounds to single out either side for arrest. Either both parties should have been arrested or no one.

4.) Gladney, though African-American himself, was dispensing racially inflammatory materials. This is similar to yelling FIRE, in a crowded theater. These materials were designed to incite a riot. Ironically, Gladney wanted to pursue "hate crimes" charges against Reverend McGowan, also African-American.

5.) MOST IMPORTANTLY, Redington is also pursuing charges against a journalist for "INTERFERING WITH POLICE OFFICER.' This particular charge has been cited as a slick maneuver to use the anti-wiretapping statutes thinly disguised as this overly vague term. Politically motivated prosecutors love this vague "interference" term, as it appears to give legal cover, should the civil rights advocates win the next set of elections. Its politically something like "being a little bit pregnant."

In multiple articles by noted legal scholar Jonathan Turley, police and prosecutors around the nation are using a politically convenient misinterpretation of wiretapping statutes. In some states it is now illegal to film a police officer in public without permission. Turley has condemned such misinterpretation as ""utter nonsense," and further stipulates that "these laws were never intended to stop photographing public officials in public doing public functions." (http://jonathanturley.org/2010/01/13/boston-police-arresting-people-for-filming-them-on-streets-as-invasive-of-their-privacy/)

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Working as an urban educator for over 25 years--I 'moonlight' as a writer. I write part-time for The Huffington Post and enjoy the task of curmudgeon,(at least where career politicians are concerned). I consider myself a political independent who (more...)
 
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If you want to know, see Why Does the Government I... by Mark Adams on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 1:37:51 PM
we can't believe in, it's comforting to learn that... by mhenriday on Sunday, Jul 4, 2010 at 8:51:29 AM