Friday, May 2, 2008

Ben Saari's Arrest

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2008 at 4:00 AM

We do find it more than curious that the only person arrested at yesterday's May Day march in downtown Santa Rosa (other than seven gang members who violated parole by hanging out outside the mall) was CopWatch activist Ben Saari. Indeed, Saari—cofounder of Free Mind Media—was probably only one of a handful of people out of the estimated crowd of 2,500 who exactly knows how to interact with officers without violating his or their rights. Yet he was nonetheless hit with a misdemeanor charge of interfering with an officer and had to post $2,500 bail. We called him up this morning as he shook the jail experience out of his head. Here is his side of the story.photo of May Day march 2007 by Brett Ascarelli "What happened was that I was just finishing the march going past Santa Rosa City Hall and in front of the Court House, the minutemen were out—they’re right-wing racist vigilantes—and they were being protected by the Santa Rosa police department. I got a phone call that cameras and observers were needed at Juilliard Park behind the stage, so I hustled over there. When I got through the crowd to the edge of the park, what I saw was one officer with a very agitated dog amid a crowd of thousands of people. The officer was visibly panicked and shouting at people to back up. There were three other officesrs with extendable batons employed and they were engaged in a face-off with a group of young people, mostly teenagers. The police weren’t giving any clear or consistent commands. Police approaching from three different directions were shouting to backup. It’s confusing, it’s hard to comply with, you don’t know what’s going on. The police tactics were really confused, really chaotic and my experience is that when police behave that way, situations escalate quickly. The police were trying to encircle this group of young people and push them out of the park. At that point, I had no idea what was going on. One of the officers yelled at me that there was a group of Norteñas behind me. When the Santa Rosa police department calls someone a gang member, I don’t trust it. That’s a convenient way to arrest people without evidence.

The police encircled this group and were trying to push them out. The police were really aggressive, really combatative. I was asking for clarification—where do you want us to go, what do you want us to do. At one point, an officer shoved me and I asked him why he was doing that, and he told me that if I didn’t stay out of his way I would be arrested. I said, I won’t get in your way. He increased his pace, shoulder-checked me and arrested me.

I think that the police were phenomenally disorganized and didn’t know what to do in a crowd to deescalate tensions or they were trying to pick a fight. I can’t . . . I have suspicions about why they would want to do that. It was definitely the effect they had, they were obviously scared and they weren’t issuing clear orders to anybody in the crowd. When we were being moved out of the crowd, I started walking out with a young man and a young woman and the officer who arrested me engaged them in a belligerent and embattling conversation. He was making accusations that they were a criminal element, that they were up to no good. When you are a police officer and you have suspicion of probable cause, there are things you can do and if you chose to bait people hoping that they will rise or sink to the bait and do something arrestible. By California law, it’s not entrapment, but it’s fishy, especially when it’s adult men doing it.

My intention was to not interfere with an officer. I was swept up in a police escalation of a conflict."

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