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Drop the Charges Against Ben Saari
Ben Saari was arrested on May Day for Copwatching at an event! Call, email, and send letters to the DA to have his charges dropped now!
Copwatcher and member of the Free Mind Media Center (a Santa Rosa based radical infoshop and bookstore) Ben Saari, was arrested on May Day while doing Copwatch and has charges pending against him. Here is his side of the story:
“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 officers with expendable 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 combative. 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.”
Please, call the DA, send letters and emails, and keep the pressure on! Drop the charges against Ben Saari! Sign the petition here: http://www. sonomadefense. org/
Here is a sample letter that you can send:
Hall of Justice, Second Floor
600 Administration Drive, Room 212-J
Santa Rosa, California 95403
Telephone: (707) 565-2311
FAX: (707) 565-2762
I’m writing you to insist that you drop all charges against Benjamin Saari from his arrest of May 1st, 2008. I believe Mr.Saari is an upstanding member of our community and that his arrest for publicly
observing police activities in a legal manner is an attack on individuals and thus the community’s right to safely and critically observe public servants on the job.
On May 1st, as thousands were entering Santa Rosa’s Juliard Park from the east side, Santa Rosa police officers began trying to corral youth, mostly
young Latinos, on the west side of the park. SRPD had extended metal batons at ready and a very agitated police dog.
Different squads of police were yelling conflicting orders at the nebulous group of youth they’d defined as a gang.
I believe that at this point Ben Saari exercised
his ability to observe the police in a manner in keeping with the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
As police advanced on the crowd, which Mr. Saari was pushed into, Mr. Saari made a point of communicating with the advancing officers and keeping a safe distance between himself and the officers.
At one point an officer being most directly observed stepped up his pace and shoulder-checked Mr. Saari, claiming the contact as Mr. Saari’s
interference with police activities and arresting him for such.
The arresting officer did not immediately announce the charges as Mr. Saari was arrested, nor was Mr. Saari read his Miranda rights. Mr. Saari
repeatedly asked the officer if he was being arrested and just before Mr.
Saari’s arrest the arresting officer informed Mr. Saari that he was in fact no being arrested. Mr.
Saari was never told by the police or the police department what he was being arrested for.
He was only informed of his charges when released on bail by the person who posted the bail.
Elements of Sonoma County Law Enforcement, particularly among the Santa Rosa Police and Sonoma County Sheriff, have been resistant to public observation of their activities from a safe distance, in some cases not identifying themselves, obscuring the visibility of interactions or even
threatening the observers with arrest.
Many believe this is because the police fear being observed overstepping their bounds and trampling
people’s rights and because of a law enforcement culture that fears public oversight.
I believe that community members checking authorities and pushing institutions towards more transparency deters abuse of power and makes a
Local activists should not be allowed to be punished for legitimately checking authority and attempting to deescalate potentially explosive situations through their public observation and nor
should they be dissuaded from active participation in matters of public affair.
The foundations of a free and open society rest upon the active participation of those living within it’s bounds in the decisions and running of that society. That is the foundation of democracy.
Allowing a branch of the executive to suppress the legitimate oversight of that institution by the people affected by its activities leads us further down the road away from that free and open society and hastens toward rule by a government with unchecked power.
Again, I strongly encourage you to do the right thing and drop the charges against Benjamin Saari. Thank you for your time.
More information at: http://www.myspace.com/santarosacopwatch