Ramsey Co. Sheriff Bob Fletcher's Police State

[Protesters in handcuffs after a Fletcher raid in a backyard in Saint Paul. -- img. fm. Strib]

This is an email from a friend of mine, who has been working for the last six months with RNC protesters as part of his PhD:

I've been getting a lot of emails from folks in the dept wanting to know what's going on. As many of you are aware, I've been doing ethnographic research on social movement organizations who are protesting the RNC. I've been immersively working with one group, the RNC Welcoming Committee, and having extensive interactions with two others, the Coalition to March on the RNC and End the War and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. As some of you are probably aware, on Friday evening the convergence space in St. Paul that was being rented and operated by the Welcoming Committee was raided by riot police who kicked in the door with automatic weapons drawn, forced the 60-70 activists inside to the floor, cuffed them, then proceeded to confiscate all of the banner-making supplies, movement literature (including 5000 dollars of special newspapers that had been printed to distribute at the RNC and 2000 copies of a radical magazine from the UK that had just arrived via Fed Ex). Over the course of several hours the cops interrogated, photographed, ran warrant checks, and eventually, one by one, released everyone who was inside. They ended up closing down the space for a code violation. The next morning when the code inspector arrived (after considerable political pressure being put on the city by Councilor Thune) he found no basis for closing the space.

Yesterday morning was one of escalation and terror. The Ramsey County Sheriffs Dept. along with SPPD, Homeland Security, and the FBI raided four private houses. At 8am sharp dozens of cops in SWAT gear violently broke down the door of my friend Nathanael's house. Approximately a dozen activists were staying there from out of town for the RNC. They were awakened (after having been up until the early hours working on a press response to the convergence space raid) literally, with automatic rifle barrels in their faces. They were pulled out of bed, bound with plastic zip ties and forced to lie face down for more than and hour. Several core members of the Welcoming Committee lived in that house and they were all arrested on charges of 'probably cause; conspiracy to riot, and conspiracy to destroy property'. The cops stole more literature from that house, all the computers and electronics devices and took anything that could possibly be used as a weapon or device for civil disobedience. This included taking the recycling bottles, rags from under the sink, and kerosene from the landlords old garage, alleging that they were for molotov cocktails, an old set of snow tires from the garage are allegedly a stockpile for burning in the streets, several buckets of what the cops described as urine and feces to be used to throw on police are actually the grey water recycling system that they've set up to be more eco friendly (they set up the sink so it drains into a bucket, then use the water from the bucket to flush the toilet). The police cite the presence of an axe and a machete as weapons (how many of you have such implements?), even though they were found near the woodpile in the backyard where I've sat with them and had campfires at night. In short, this was totally politically motivated and ridiculous. However, it being a holiday weekend, any arrests for alleged crimes beyond petty misdemeanors will not even arrive in court until Wednesday at the earliest. This means that whether or not any charges stick these folks who have been organizing resistance to the RNC for two years will be in jail the entire time it's going on.

Four other houses were raided yesterday, dozens of activists were detained. In all, six core members of the welcoming committee were arrested on conspiracy charges, the remaining members of the organization have dispersed. Out of town activists at the convergence space have formed an ad hoc committee and sub committees to self organize the functions once taken on by WC members.

After seeing reports of my friends being brutalized, abducted off the street by SWAT teams, and generally intimidated and threatened I've decided to go out of town for a day or two. The cops had warrants for core WC members, and it does not appear at this point that I am in danger. As of right now I'm unsure of how to operate and conduct the participant observation I had planned for tomorrow. It is very likely that any other people connected with the WC that are encountered by police during the protests will be opportunistically arrested and charged with felonies.

Given the shocking level of police repression (check out twin cities indymedia and the site of the coldsnap legal collective for up to date details) I cannot in good faith ask other grads to carry out the observations that we had discussed during tomorrow's protests. If you do go down there be careful. The march should be safe, but the other protest activities after the march, the blockades, may be very volatile.

If you are concerned about this enormous police over-kill please contact mayors Coleman in St. Paul and Rybak in Minneapolis, demand an end to this witch hunt. The people who were arrested were some of the kindest, gentlest, most dedicated activists I've ever met.

Stay safe in the police state.

More info on this story, including lots of video, over at The Uptake.

It sounds like Ramsey Co. Sheriff Bob Fletcher is calling the shots on this, as some of the SPPD interviewed in the Uptake vids stated. Who is he? Here are some details:
Much like his counterpart in Hennepin County, who attempted to turn the 35-W bridge collapse into a self-serving publicity stunt, Fletcher is probably trying to use the RNC to his personal political advantage.

This kind of goon squad behavior shouldn't be taking place in Saint Paul. Let's hope the Sheriff's office doesn't escalate the situation over the next few days. (Hell, Bush isn't even going to come to Saint Paul anymore, anyway. I think he's sending Michael Brown to give his speech.)


Which Twin City is Which Lame Republican? (A 2008 RNC Poll!)

[The famously conjoined twins, Cheng and Eng Bunker, George W. Bush and John McCain. (Bush and McCain are the ones on the bottom...)]

I'm sure you're all aware that the greatest detail slipped into Hillary Clinton's speech at the '08 Democratic National Convention in Denver tonight. She tied together McCain and Bush in the worst of all possible ways, joining them forever at the hip. She made the most ironclad of comparisons, a metaphor so tightly wrought that John Henry himself could not drive steel through its well welded joints. It was a simile so smart, Einstein himself would have admitted no relativity into its interpretation...

What did she do?

Yes, that's right! She compared McCain and Bush to the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis...

[Last night's episode of The Hills.]

The comment was met with uproarious applause, volumnious cheering! And all because of the twin-ness of our fine Twin Cities.

Yes, these are two cities so alike in character, so alike in populace, so alike in quality...

Two cities separated by a mere river, forever joined upon the prairie, cut from the same cloth, built from the same bricks, people'd by the same loins...

To compare Bush and McCain to Saint Paul and Minneapolis is to speak of the twinniest of twins, two people so alike that they could be a matched pair, so alike they could be separated by a river, two cities forever coupled like monogamous penguins, two cities joined like the twin suns of Tatooine, two cities locked like Yin and Yang, entwined in the kind of long-lasting embrace reserved for Rodin sculptures...

Yes, Hillary Clinton's speechwriter hit the nail on the head when he or she drew a line from McCain to Bush to Saint Paul to Minneapolis. After a metaphor like that, there's no way that the GOP is winning this election. Nobody would want to vote for a Minnesotan city.

In fact, only one question remains:

Which city is John McCain? Which city is George Bush?

Is Saint Paul McCain because of its advanced age? Or is it George Bush thanks to its economic ineptitude, its provincial backwardness, and its obvious willingness to sell itself out to every right wing road show that rolls through town, from Norm Coleman to Randy Kelly to the RNC (OMGWTFGOPBBQ) 2008?

Or is Minneapolis the real John McCain, a self-styled maverick who will say anything to be part of the cool kids clique? Or, on the other hand, does Minneapolis make a mean George Bush, the city whose skyline juts above the prairie like a Foshay Tower, preening before the cowering masses, a city so self-important that it can only live in a bubble?

I welcome any comments you may have, dear reader. Please tell me! Why is Minneapolis or Saint Paul exactly like George W. Bush or John McCain? (Should you need any ideas about how these two Twin Cities are so eerily similar, check out these two previous posts.)

Stay tuned, I will have several suggestions tomorrow! In the meantime, take the poll!

[The twin skylines of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, separated only by a roadway. Which is more likely to clear brush?]


Signs of the Times #10

Under North Carolina law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at this agritoursim location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity. Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, among others, risks of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals, as well as teh potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agritourism activity.

[Warning placard outside a vineyard/winery in Siler City, NC.]


[Wooden box outside camera inside tree outside the Midwest Hotel on University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

The cold weather swells the sidewalk which causes the door to stick open
Thank you for your help!

[Sign on a Starbucks door in Saint Paul.]

Property Line
Private Property

[Random sidewalk on 2nd Avenue in New York City.]


[Building in Highland Park, Saint Paul.]


***Newsflash Friday *** #20

[Clearin' brush -- Q: What has 28 legs and crawls stumbly down the street? -- Taking a pass on passing by -- Finger pointing -- Forgotten post on forgotten spots -- A triptych]

Sidewalk Rating: Blowin' in the wind

Hello! Sorry about the prolonged absence. It's super windy today, so when you're out on the sidewalk be sure to adopt a wide stance! Biking, too, has become rather Sisyphean. It seems like each time I get to the top of the hill, I roll back down.

Enjoy August while it blasts.

***Clearin' Brush***

Somewhere in North Carolina...

...people are encouraging you to take responsibility for your sidewalk.

*** Q: What has 28 legs and crawls stumbly down the street? ***

A: The PedalPub of course. Not long after writing about it a while back, I was sitting on a porch on Saint Paul and heard this commotion out the window. I looked down and saw the PedalPub doing laps through the neighborhood. Cars slowed down before eventually, carefully, going around it. And people sure seemed to be having fun!

(My video capabilities are terrible!)

Incidentally, it turns out the hullaballo over quashing the PedalPub in Mpls may have been overstated.

*** Taking a pass on passing by ***

I'm not so sure about this tempest in a teapot, which in my book tries to turn sidewalks into a Taylor-ized dystopia of rules and regulations. Why can't I stroll on the left, if I want to?

There's an interesting study that I read a while back (in David Ball's book, Critical Mass) that models how people walk along passageways. Invariably, people form 'lanes' by following others who are moving in the same direction. It happens all on its own, just because people like to follow each other. We hardly need to legislate it.

(That said, it reminds me of the droitwich.)

*** Finger pointing ***

[Looking through windows of wig and nail shops in downtown Minneapolis.]

This story about the possible demise all the businesses on the Nicollet and 6th (?) block is kind of depressing

Kwang Yu, owner of Shins Alterations, and Kim Tran, owner of California Nails & Hair, said they would soon have month-to-month leases. Tran has operated out of the building for the past eight years. If she moves a block east she thinks the business will die, and she said it’s too expensive to move a block west.

“I want five more years,” she said. Tran also opened up Global Gift in the building’s vacant Marquette Avenue space two years ago, selling colorful marble pieces. She installed a new ceiling and wall paneling that covered holes in the plaster, and she doesn’t think she will recoup her investment now.

The owners of Hell’s Kitchen are already looking for new space Downtown.

“We don’t even know if we’re moving,” said Cynthia Gerdes, co-owner of Hell’s Kitchen. “We were asked to start looking for space in case we had to move. .... We contacted everybody Downtown about possible spaces.”

Janice Lee, owner of Lee’s Wigs, said she is “just floating” for the moment. At the request of the building manager, she closed down her corner shop at the end of 2006 and moved to the middle of the block. She said the property manager wanted to install a coffeehouse on the corner, but the space is still empty.

That block houses the most interesting downtown retail in Minneapolis. I urge anyone to go and visit the places before they're gone.

*** Forgotten post on forgotten spots ***

An old MnSpeak thread about "weird Twin Cities" includes an excellent shoutout to the Hulk Hogan's Pastamania awning at Cedar-Riverside:

What's the weirdest place in the Twin Cities? The bridge to Dimension Zed over I94 is a good candidate, but as a signage freak, I also have to like the awning for Hulk Hogan's Pastamania! on an empty storefront near the Cedar-Riverside apartments. It's also quite strange to see the Grain Belt Beer sign along Hennepin (and frequently gracing the header of MNspeak) stand so prominently within eyeshot (oh, but it doesn't face the school!) of the De La Salle school. And, without making the grave mistake of burying everyone with selections, I will put this list to rest by mentioning the most aptly named location in the area: the "Joy Free Cemetery" in Rogers.

[A forgotten awning.]

*** A triptych ***

Three photos:

1) Stained glass on the NY subway -- fm. NYTimes

2) TC busstop signage -- fm. Metroblogs

3) A surveillance balloon -- fm. Fffffound


As if I didn't loathe Denny Hecker already...

[A city bus vandalized by Hecker's vision for America.]

I have seen this ad go by me on buses around town a few times before, but it's always been traveling too fast. I haven't been able to whip my digital camera out of its holster and snap damning evidence of the accursed thing.

But this time, the #16 was loping along University Avenue, and I saw my chance. Pursuing it on my bicycle, camera-in-pocket, I caught the elusive Denny Hecker face and got proof of his poisonous message.

Nobody Walks?

Is Denny Hecker living in a sci-fi movie?

[The new Denny Hecker action figure.]


The Met Council are a bunch of bums

[A bus rider standing impatiently in the street while waiting for the #63 bus in Saint Paul.]

I didn't want to write this post. You'd think that now, of all times, our progressive state government would be trying to prepare for the future. Oil prices are at all time highs, and promise to get much, much higher. All the signs point to the fact that climate change is happening faster than ever, and we live in a society that spends vastly too much of its energy on transportation costs (consuming 25% of the world's oil production). Now, more than ever, we should be trying to get people out of gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing cars, and into more sustainable modes of transportation.

Yet, I read today that the Met Council (predictably) raised city-wide transit fares, at this moment when people have reached a tipping point, and are more willing than ever before to consider sustainable transportation:

Bus and light-rail riders will have to pony up another quarter starting Oct. 1 after the Metropolitan Council voted today to increase fares to combat rising fuel prices.

Another 50-cent jump is possible next year.

Opponents have said the increase will hurt those riders already struggling to make fare, as well as riders on Metro Mobility, a service for people with disabilities, who will now have to pay 50 cents more per trip.

The fare increase is meant to erase an anticipated $15 million shortfall in Metro Transit's 2009 operations budget.

Mary Hill Smith, head of the transportation committee, said her group tried to balance the needs of riders and the Metro Transit budget when proposing the hike.

"I don't think that any of us are particularly happy to raise fares now," she said. "I hope the community at large understands this is something we do with a heavy heart."

This comes after a long process of debate, and some fierce lobbying by the pro-transit community about possible alternatives to raising transit fares. A while back, Transit for Liveable Communities put out the following statement about alternatives to raising fares:

With high gas prices and a slow economy, transit should be as affordable as possible. Further, there are alternatives to raising fares. Options include:

  • The Metropolitan Council’s rainy day fund has $19 million in its reserves. Tapping half of this fund would buy time for the 2009 legislature to decide whether fare increases or service cuts are appropriate or needed.
  • Three percent more of the revenues from the motor vehicle sales tax (some of the funding that currently goes toward funding metropolitan trunk highways) could go to transit in the Twin Cities region. This would require a statutory change during the 2009 legislative session.
  • Increase the regional sales tax to raise sufficient funding to cover the gap Institute a new tax on off-street parking
  • Increase the metro area property tax for transit and target this new money to transit operations (previously, transit operations were funded this way).

All of these ideas are alternatives that would shift the structural landscape within which we all make choices every day.

In other words, each day we ask ourselves: How should I get around? Every few years, we ask ourselves, where should I live?

Government has a huge role to play in shifting the economic incentives at play for both of these questions. How much will it cost to drive your car to work? How much does it cost to park, pay for gas, get insurance, get your license and registration? How much does it cost (in time and money) to take the bus?

The government has a hand in all of these questions, and considering the huge expenditures for energy costs, pollution regulation, conservation initiatives, and freeway construction, and policing, the amount of money that state and regional governments throw towards the transit system is really small potatoes.

That's why I love Roseville State Senator John Marty's almost-competely-ignored proposal to drop transit fares down to 25 cents. Here's what he wrote:

The cost is not as much as some would think. Cutting fares for Metro Transit from the current $1.50 to $2.75 down to a flat 25-cent fare for buses and LRT would obviously reduce fare-box revenue. But the public already pays well over three-fourths of the cost of the transit system, so lower fares take away only a small portion of the revenue. In fact, with the jump in ridership, the public cost of each individual ride would drop significantly. (A bus or rail car costs virtually the same amount to operate whether it has 15 or 50 passengers.)

Alternatives to this proposal are not cheap. The Met Council's proposed fare increase is projected to bring in about $7 million more per year. Even so, it projects a revenue shortage of $30 to $40 million per year by 2011. On top of that, the cost of expanding roads and highways to handle the growing congestion has a price tag in the billions, not the millions that transit improvements and fare cuts would require. Also, this cost analysis excludes the environmental costs of driving more cars and building more roads. The 25-cent-fare proposal would ultimately save taxpayers money.

There are other benefits of the 25-cent fare. It would provide much-needed savings for low-income people struggling with high food and energy costs. The enhanced service to handle the surge in passengers would make it easier for seniors and others who rely on transit to get to their doctor, the store, their church or wherever they need to go.

This proposal reminds me a lot of another failed proposal that would have reduced the New York City transit fare down to ZERO dollars, in exchange for a toll on private cars running through midtown Manhattan.

Maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but Marty's proposal would seem to me to be a move of political genius. You'd trade a few griping "taxpayer's league" folks for a ton of new, urban riders on the city's transit systems. It would greatly please all the environmental, poverty, and energy constituencies, at the expense of a few state dollars.

And, that's why, of course, the Met Council had no interest in keeping the lid on transit fares. The entire council is stacked with Pawlenty appointees, and he can remove them at will. They know where their bread is buttered, and trading the Met Council "rainy day fund" for a little State Budget breathing room is a terrible move for a Governor who has been hell bent on maintaining every possible political advantage.

Unfortunately, at the moment, we have a state executive who does not have the state's best interests at heart. That extra quarter is going to sit heavily in my pocket for the next six months. Meanwhile, the #63 bus schedule was slashed a few years ago, part of Metro Transit's periodic budget cuts. How long will we have to wait until our government starts making sense?


Signs of the Times #9

Dress Code
1. No sleeveless shirts
2. No jerseys
3. No backwards hats
4. No white T-shirt
4. No tanktops or "wife beaters"

[Sign on a door at a bar on River Street, Savannah, GA.]

Panhandling is
a Crime!

(lots of rules underneath)

[Sign somewhere in Minneapolis.]

Note to "MEGABUS" Customers:

Amtrak and Chicago Union Station Co. have no business relationship with "MEGABUS" and cannot provide assistance.


[Sign outside Union Station, Chicago, IL.]


Passengers must no cross the line
except by the subway

[Train station in West Yorkshire, UK.]

Mall Entrance
T.J. Maxx

[Sign outside T.J. Maxx, somewhere in Minnesota.]


Why the PedalPub is Good for Minneapolis

[The PedalPub on the Stone Arch Bridge -- img. fm Beeractivist.]

I have to say I'm alarmed by this blog post detailing a possible crackdown on Minneapolis's own PedalPub.

Apparently, Minneapolis Real Estate Czar Lisa Goodman may be trying to squelch the PedalPub and its suprirsingly tolerant state statute.

While I've never been on it, I have had the pleasure of seeing the PedalPub go past me a few times while on the sidewalk -- once on West 7th Street in Saint Paul, and the other time in Downtown Minneapolis. Each time I've seen it, a huge smile has cracked across my face. It's so fun to see people traveling at 5 miles per hour through the city and enjoying it. (Compare to this 5 mph experience.)

I'm sure that council members like Goodman see the pedal pub as a vehicle for vagrants, drunks, and assorted riff-raff that slugs about, clogging traffic throughout the city and causing commotion, noise, litter, and untold other public crimes. In other words, it's a nuisance akin to dancing in the streets.

[A pair of Smart Cars spotted along Selby Avenue
in Saint Paul.]

But when I see the PedalPub, I see a real boon to Minneapolis' sidewalks and streetlife. In fact, I'm prepared to argue that the PedalPub is helping Minneapolis businesses, neighborhoods, and pedestrians alike, whether or not they work in the licensed beverage industry. Here are a few reasons why:

  • 1) Traffic Calming

The presence of unconventional vehicles on the city streets encourages surrounding cars to slow down, and calms traffic for everyone. And barring the Heart of the Beast bike puppets, the PedalPub is one of the most unconventional vehicles in the Twin Cities. Having a gawky, slow moving drunken crawlmobile well-guided makes makes streets more welcoming for bikers, walkers, gawkers, children, old folks, panhandlers, tourists, and anyone else who isn't rushing along on their commute ...

And, in fact, Minneapolis streets are going to feature lots of different kinds of unconventional vehicles in the future. I'm seeing more and more of them on the streets every day, and higher energy prices will mean more scooters, bikes, motorcycles, electric cars, segways(?), smart cars, buses, streetcars, light rail trains, and probably things we don't even know about yet. I'd say that the era of the monolithic family car is coming to an end...

  • 2) The out-of-doors
Much like Connie's Creamy Cone, the PedalPub only pedals from from April to November. (And much for the same reasons... Brrrrr.) Simply put, the PedalPub gets people into the out-of-doors where they enjoy the wind, sun, sights, and sounds of the wonderful city of Minneapolis. This is a rare treat in a land 'o' winter, and we should savor every opportunity. I want to see the city taking advantage of sidewalk cafes, patios, decks, rooftops, parks, kiosks, benches, beaches, shuffleboard courts, and every other chance to innoculate our popualtion against cabin fever.

  • 3) Economic connectivity
The PedalPub is not a destination, and the pleasure is all in the journey. As a result, people get to experience, see, encounter, and patronize businesses all throughout neighborhoods. Rather than all going to one "hip" place to enjoy their social time, PedalPub passengers discover the places in between the places they know about. The slow pace of the pub encourages connections between neighborhood businesses, and the groups end up bar hopping and adventuring between businesses in an given neighborhood area. At the very least, this builds a culture of cooperation, rather than a culture of competition in Minneapolis neighborhoods. At the very best, it will help turn places like Northeast Minneapolis into the next well connected place to be.

[Witness this excruciating video of a PedalPub clogging up traffic in Amsterdam.]

The PedalPub is a concept from Amsterdam, one of the world's most walkable cities that boasts with some of the world's most loved sidewalks and streets. Short of legalization of certain substances and activities, you'd think Minneapolis would be doing everything it can to become more like the Dutch.

In fact, I think that the City Council should buy a 13-seat PedalPub where they could hold their meetings. It could be steered by Mayor Rybak, and would take Minneapolis Council Members straight to a walkable, civic, and environmentally friendly future at a stately 5 miles per hour. Plus, there can be no doubt it would greatly boost the City Council's popularity.

I think it'd be a damn shame if the wet blankets on the city council succeeded to bottling up the (open bottles) streetlife of the city. The Pedal Pub is a great symbol of tolerance, neighborhood, street life, and publicly-condoned intoxication. Surely there's room on the street for everyone.

Finally, this from Reetsyberger:
Interested in helping the PedalPub preserve its future in Minneapolis? Take a moment from your busy day to write to your City Councilwomen Lisa Goodman and Elizabeth Glidden; share with them your positive stories about the PedalPub.



One Year Later

About a year ago today, as you all know, the Interstate 35-W Bridge fell into the Mississippi in Downtown Minneapolis. When that happened, I got kind of pissed off, and ended up re-kindling this blog that had been neglected and lain mostly fallow for about a year or so, writing my mind about the bridge disaster, and how important it is to think about our shared urban landscape.

As it turned out, my blog post on the 35-W bridge brought me a lot of positive feedback, and really motivated me to keep blogging, and writing, and thinking about all the wonderful sidewalks in Minnesota.

I started Twin City Sidewalks back in 2005, partly because I was frustrated at the atrophy of my previous website, but mostly because I had a real interest in looking more closely at the built environment of Minneapolis and Saint Paul... all the sidewalks, streets, bike paths, parks, fire hydrants, lamp posts, mailboxes, water fountains, shop windows, elm trees, schools, public parks, and everything else that we use nearly every day. What is that stuff? How does it work? If, as it turns out, these things are important, and all of these real bits and pieces shape our lives every day, then maybe it's worth kicking the tires, and looking at how the kinds of choices we can make are embedded in a rich set of structures that extends far back into history.

I'm not sure how successful this blog has actually been, but it's certainly exceeded my expectations. Through the website, I've met a bunch of new people who share a love of streetlife and sidewalk culture, and what little writing I've ended up doing has opened up a few new doors, and I've ended up learning about new issues all through Minnesota.

So, on this one-year anniversary of the bridge collapse I want to say a very real Thank You to everyone who reads this blog. I really value the feedback I've received. Thanks.