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Tampa police boast of political spying at 2012 RNC protests

Activists weighing lawsuit against cops
By staff |
August 7, 2015
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Lead banner in 2012 march on the RNC in Tampa.

Tampa, FL - According to an August 3 report in the Tampa Bay Times, Major Marc Hamlin, the head of Special Operations for the Tampa Police Department, is boasting about the political spying carried out at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The article states, “Normally, police wouldn't acknowledge, let alone discuss, such an undercover operation. But Hamlin talked a little about the 2012 RNC efforts Monday because the secret was already out. Last month, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, attending a maritime security conference in Cleveland (which is hosting the 2016 RNC), heard him describe how police managed to join and ‘take over' protest groups.”

Over 1000 people rallied and marched in the streets of Tampa, August 27, 2012, to demand good jobs, affordable education, healthcare, equality and peace. Although the Republicans canceled the first day of their convention due to Tropical Storm Isaac, organizers with the Coalition to March on the RNC went through with their promise to march to the site of the convention.

Local authorities tried to block the protest by imposing a repressive ‘Clean Zone,’ which limited First Amendment rights and also refused to grant permits for the mass march until the last moment. The city was forced to give the permits due to a public outcry and the stand of protest organizers that the march on the site of the RNC would take place “with or without permits.”

Jared Hamil, who was an organizer of the Coalition to March on the RNC states, “The cops say they infiltrated protest groups during the preparation for the March on the RNC. I’m not surprised they tried, but that didn't stop us from holding a successful mass march that told the Republicans, and the 1% they serve, to go home. They tried the same thing in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2008. It just shows you that you can't really reason with the cops or the politicians that answer to the rich and powerful.”

A number of smaller protests also took place during the course of the Tampa RNC.

Pattern of government spying and repression

“Government spying and repression targeting protests has long been a standard feature at conventions of the major political parties,” stated Mick Kelly, of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, who helped to organize the mass marches at the 2008 RNC in Saint Paul and again in Tampa in 2012.

Kelly relates that in the run up to the 2008 RNC protests, a police officer going by the name of “Karen Sullivan” came into the Anti-War Committee, one of the of the core organizations in Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. Sullivan stayed on after the convention where she, along with another agent, prepared the groundwork for the Sept. 24, 2010 raids, when over 70 FBI agents simultaneously invaded the homes and served grand jury subpoenas to prominent anti-war and international solidarity activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and the Michigan city of Grand Rapids.

Kelly was among those whose home was raided by the FBI.

In total, 23 activists were summoned to a grand jury investigating trumped up ‘material support of terrorism’ charges. None those subpoenaed testified, but ongoing investigation led to arrests, on trumped up charges, of veteran Los Angeles Chicano leader Carlos Montes and the Chicago-based Palestinian American leader Rasmea Odeh.

The attempt to jail Montes was defeated, and he was one of the main speakers at the 2012 protest in Tampa. A national effort is currently underway to prevent the imprisonment and deportation of Odeh.

Fernando Figueroa, who came to Tampa in 2012 to help organize the march on the RNC states, “We had no doubt then, and the Tampa police are confirming what we have long known – the police spy on and work to repress those of us who fight for freedom, justice and equality. I am proud that we worked hard to create plans for the protest among a close circle of young friends who had known each other for half of their lives and only recently begun organizing at the time. We also worked hard to organize the march the RNC and did a great job.”

Weighing legal action

According to the Tamp Bay Times article, “Organizing for the undercover operations began as soon as police began planning for the Republican convention, which took place the last week of August 2012.

‘You're only as good as your intelligence,’ Hamlin said. ‘Everything else is reactive.’”

Kelly states that organizers of the 2012 protest are consulting with attorneys about a possible legal response to the admitted spying. “We need to expose and oppose political repression any time that it takes place. In the past we have gone to court in order to get information that shines a light on the FBI investigation directed against us. We are talking with lawyers about what avenues might be open to us to find out exactly what the Tampa police were up to in 2012.”

Sol Márquez, who was a spokesperson for the Coalition to March on the RNC in 2012 stated, “We marched for good jobs, health care, affordable education, equality and peace, and undercover police carried out all kinds of surveillance. This is type of country we live in, and the struggle must continue. I would organize against the RNC all over again and plan on being present at the next one!"

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