Unfortunately, at this point I've become accustomed to hearing about the escalating level of police brutality against protesters. But I'm still shocked about the scope of police and "law enforcement" violence at the RNC. It's stunning to watch potential Blackwater employees pull someone aside for detention, to hear of teargas and rubber bullets used against protesters, to see horrifying strong-arm tactics against reporters, or to listen to a sheriff proudly describe year-long counterinsurgency efforts against nonviolent political protesters.
RNC terror: "a practice run in implementing martial law"
But now I'm beside myself after hearing Elliot Hughes describe what can only be categorized as torture while being detained at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, Minnesota (and while in the hospital!). Hughes was riding his bike alongside a small protest of what looks like about 50 people marching in the street, followed by an equal number of police, when a police officer, also on bicycle, ran into him. After getting up from the ground, Hughes was tackled by numerous officers, taken to jail, and subjected to the kind of treatment familiar to those of us who follow US military violence in colonial incursions around the world.
In this country, this kind of horrifying treatment is generally reserved for those considered human garbage or threats to conventional standards of decency: homeless people, people of color, people perceived as undocumented immigrants, sex workers, trans people and others not gendered "correctly," as well as people considered mentally or physically "impaired" -- and now I'm beginning to think that the monstrous powers-that-be are succeeding at moving protesters into the category of those who can be brutalized with impunity, especially if these protesters identify as (or are even perceived as) anarchists.
While in police custody, 19-year-old Elliot Hughes fainted due to lack of food, and began convulsing and coughing up blood. Police responded by saying that he was faking it or "being bulimic." A prison doctor told Hughes that he had a bruised rib and that coughing up blood was "normal." Hughes was repeatedly denied food, put in solitary confinement, and then when he demanded something to eat, he was punched in the face by an officer and knocked unconscious. The officer then brought Hughes back to consciousness by slamming his head on the ground, resulting in a pool of Hughes' blood on the floor. Officers then put some sort of device consisting of a translucent plastic bag over Hughes's head, with a gag over his mouth, and used pain compliance torture tactics by pressing deep into the nerves and tendons between jaw and neck while wrapping one of Hughes's leg around his back. As Hughes was screaming and crying for help or an end to the pain, the officers would press harder, and when Hughes screamed for God or anyone to help him, one of the officers, clearly aware of this horror movie enactment, said, "There's no God here, we are all devils."
Hughes was eventually taken to a detention cell inside Regency Hospital, with no knowledge of where he was going and the bag still over his head after his recent concussion. He couldn't see, and was nauseous from the bruising to his brain, and started vomiting in the bag while it was over his head. Officers refused to remove the bag or to do anything for Hughes's wounds for several hours while he screamed for help. When Hughes eventually became quiet, officers paraded him through the halls of the hospital, handcuffed with the bag over his head, vomit and blood everywhere. After Hughes was examined and treated by a doctor, he was taken back to the hospital cell, where the air-conditioning was turned up and he sat there shivering until eventually he was taken back to jail, strip-searched and held overnight until eventually released.
There are so many layers to the horror of this hideous and appalling treatment, but I need to pause for a moment to wonder about this holding cell at Regency Hospital -- of course I'm aware of the ways the medical industry is complicit with corporate profiteers of all sorts, but I do wonder what was going on inside the hospital as Elliot Hughes screamed for several hours for help. Was the hospital holding cell soundproof? And what about when Hughes was marched through the halls with a plastic bag over his head -- is that common treatment for patients? I wonder what hospitals need to do in order for prison officials to allow them to treat brutalized inmates, and cannot, unsurprisingly, find any information at the Regency Hospital website.
It's amazing and inspiring to see Elliot Hughes talking so clearly, carefully, and eloquently about his torture, immediately after his release from jail. Obviously he is traumatized, and yet he is still speaking out. Like so many of us, he's trying to exist in the world in an ethical way, trying to challenge this horrifying imperialist system we're living under, and he's now bearing the costs. The costs for biking down the street during a protest, mind you -- what is next?
I keep hearing, over and over again, about the brutality of "the Republicans," but everyone should pause for a moment to remember that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are some of the most liberal metropolises in the country, with Democratic mayors, and I'm guessing Democratic officials at the head of almost every city agency. The police violence at the RNC is, as Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein describes it, "a bipartisan expansion of police power and crackdown on the First Amendment."
I highly recommend listening to the September 5 segment of the always-brilliant Flashpoints, where Elliot Hughes describes his torture in more detail, and where American Indian Movement activist Bill Means speculates that the police state tactics in Minneapolis and St. Paul are "a practice run in implementing martial law."
Thank you, Elliot, for your bravery.
Mattilda also blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com