[As many of you know, I'm in Minneapolis-St. Paul covering the RNC for Firedoglake. Here's my first dispatch.]
Thanks to the miracle of cellular technology, I was able to talk to a homeowner while his home was surrounded by police conducting an RNC-related raid.
I reached Mike Whelan, a waiter and army veteran, by phone at his duplex at 951 Iglehart Ave. in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Whelan invited independent observers from the group LegalWatch stay in one half of his side-by-side duplex while they monitor RNC protests.
Whelan describes himself as a supporter of the RNC demonstrations, but says he is not affiliated with any particular group. "I want to build a country that's based on good social values," he said.
When I spoke to him, Whelan was waiting in one half of the duplex with his roommates, Dan and Julian. The three were afraid to go outside because the police were still there. Whelan said he thought that the police were inside the opposite side of the duplex, where the legal observers were staying. "I think they are detaining people," he added.
Whelan, who sounded remarkably calm for a guy whose flower garden had just been trampled by police brandishing automatic weapons, said he'd just gotten home from a morning of garage sale shopping when the commotion started. That would have been about one o'clock local time.
He described what happened:
"About an hour and a half ago 20 to 30 heavily armed police officers surrounded the house," Whelan said. "One of my roommates said 'I want to see a warrant' and she was immediately detained."
"Are they still outside?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, they're still outside," Whelan replied cheerfully, "The streets are blocked off."
"How you did figure out there was a raid going on?" I asked.
"It sounded like people were falling down on my porch," he said, "Cops were running up both sides of the house onto the porch.
Whelan says his roommate, Erin Stalmaker, went out to talk to talk to the police. She asked the officers why they were there. The officers asked why people were running away from them. Erin reportedly told the officers that their drawn automatic weapons probably had something to do with it. She was detained after asking to see a warrant.
"Are you scared," I asked."
"No, I'm a veteran," he said, "I was in the army. I was a military police officer. I wouldn't have done this."
Whelan said it was especially perplexing that the police would target his home.
"There's nothing here," he said, "These are the "checking" people. They're not even going to be in the demonstration. Some are lawyers."
Whelan was watching a large crowd of legal observers gathering across the street, many wearing red or green hats. The police officers he could identify were from St. Paul, but he thought there might be other forces on the scene as well. The officers were wearing black uniforms. Their vehicles were "non-descript" vans, not police cruisers. TV cameras were also on the scene. Whelan couldn't be sure because a tree was blocking his view, but he thought City Council member Melvin Carter had arrived. Whelan called him when the raid started. (Talk about constituent service.)
"You figure this would be going on in South Africa, or Russia, not in St Paul," Whelan said, marveling at the incongruity of it all,"St. Paul is nice."