Site editor’s note: This post from D.J. Pangburn originally appeared on death + taxes.
Mo Karn, alias of a ‘known anarchist,’ filed a Freedom of Information Act requrest with the Richmond, Virginia police. The department delivered the documents, now they want them back.
Karn (a member of Richmond Copwatch) and others filed under the Freedom of Information Act to learn police procedures during protests, so that they could better plan and coordinate their efforts in direct action. According to Karn’s (she is a member of the anarchist collective The Wingnut), the group “wanted to get copies of the police protocols so we could know when the police are breaking their own rules.”
Perfectly legal, it would seem. We should all know when police are breaking their own rules or the law.
However, the documents weren’t merely standard police protocols but homeland security and crowd control guides. Essentially a how-to manual on how to control protests. Wingnut published the police protocols on their website around Christmas. Richmond Police then filed an emergency court order on January 4th to stop Karn and Wingnut from publishing the documents, but it was already too late: the documents had been downloaded and posted elsewhere on the internet.
Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood claims in the court documents that he did not give permission to Angela Harrison, Program Director at the Richmond Police Department, to release certain of the protocols (those dealing with police tactics in emergency situations). Norwood and the City of Richmond claim in the court order that the release of this information endangers his police force.
As citizens in a democracy, it could be argued that we have the right to know how the police conducts itself in emergency situations. History has shown that police do not always ‘protect and serve’ in legal ways. In protests, in fact, they are used as storm troopers and often initiate or escalate violence themselves. See the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”), in which protesters who were sitting peacefully were hit with pepper spray.
But why was Karn served with the court order? According to the court documents, ”Defendant Mo Karn is a known and admitted anarchist.”
Even if Karn and the members of the Wingnut collective are anarchist by philosophy and action, as Americans they do have the right to file a FOIA and to have that request honored by authorities.
It’s highly unlikely that these documents will endanger the Richmond Police Department. Many of America’s police department’s tactics have been observed by protestors for years and exploited for counter-tactical or comical effect (check out Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book”). Wingnut’s knowledge of police tactics during protests (or “emergency situations”) will only allow them to escape without taking a baton to the head or gas to the face.
And what of Norwood’s request for the return of the documents? It seems rather absurd. Karn actually put it best:
“Apparently they want their information back. I don’t think they understand the internet. You can’t really get that information back. We’ve got it, the internet has it, and hundreds of people have looked at it.”
Touche, Karn. Just the latest battle in the war for free information.
Every little act counts.
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