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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
John Rehill
columnist, The Bradenton Times
Over-the-Top Would Understate Security at Last Week's RNC

Last week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, security was in full force. It would be safe to say a new Guinness World Record was set by the ratio of protesters to police. But what could have summoned this wall-to-wall overkill of strength on the streets, and where did the information to do so come from? 

We are certainly better off being ready for trouble than not. Prepared, alert and in gear to the possibilities of harms way is good, but what was this $100-million demonstration really all about?

I'll start out with where Mitt Romney left off: "...preserve a military so strong no nation dare to test it." That was my exact thought the moment I popped out of the door at the parking garage my first day at the RNC. I figured this must be either a fashion show for military occupation gear, or a dress rehearsal for a new series called War In The City.

There were police in helicopters, SUVs, on bikes, Segways, motorcycles and in boats. Police were on top of buildings and on horseback, and had thousands upon thousands of boots on the ground. There was a 'dare to test' message for sure, coming from nearly every doorway, on every corner and in half of the vehicles that drove by or sat on each corner.

Inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, there was another message: 'Keep government out of our lives.' But somewhere between the 30 miles of chain-link fence, thousands of barricades, numerous checkpoints and soldiers armed with automatic weapons, I wondered, whose lives were they referencing?

Someone on the street told me, "… this is what it will look like after the 1% win the class war." Nearly everyone I talked to was just speechless when I asked about the wall-to-wall uniforms. One replied, "and they are not all in uniform."

Was the information and rumors of there being a revolutionary attack flawed? Were the screams -- the sky is falling, the sky is falling and the disgruntled will rain havoc on us all -- a hoax?

I spoke to more than 100 police, and even more RNC participants, in the days I was there. It was reported that Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said she was happy with the crowd's composure and the near-complete absence of problems. But at what cost?

Castor said the estimate for rabble-rousers had been overblown. What an understatement. Where did she get the information she banked this mountain of response on? The public needs to know. Did the information come from the federal government when they offered Tampa a $50-million security grant?

Castor also says she accepts the criticism, but her duty calls for more insight and intelligence gathering. The response offered was total overkill.

I spent the most of two days in the streets outside the security fences, and what happened there was nothing to be proud of. Every time that 20 or 25 of the Ron Paul supporters walked anywhere, they were draped by 50 to 100 police. I see where Romney got his "dare to test" line. What did those who had tickets to the event, and the brigade protecting them, think these American citizens were going to do?

I have been to many a protest in Washington D.C. and elsewhere, and many times there were one, two and even 300,000 passionate protesters. Never have I seen a force that comes close to what happened in Tampa at the RNC.

There were around 200 protesters in total, and 150 of them were Ron Paul supporters who were being labeled protesters, I guess because they didn't have a ticket into the convention. Those supporters were followed by police three times their number, no matter where they went. There were a few hundred more Paul supporters inside the Forum who occasionally announced themselves, but they never came out to join those in the street.

Regardless of what the network media said, citizens outside the compound were totally intimidated by the gross numbers of those in uniform. I often asked some of the police what they thought about this overly portioned phenomena and each quickly justified it. One told me, "If you were in the Middle East, they'd shoot you for what you are doing." I had to remind him that I was just a reporter and only trying to get a handle on what was happening.

I truly understand the precautionary rule, but what happened in Tampa was not even close. Inside the convention, nearly everyone I asked about the brigade surrounding the event said, "better safe than sorry."

Imagine if all those who attended took home the same commitment to our children's education, what's in their lunches, climate change and our health care crisis.

John Rehill is a columnist with The Bradenton Times.

by Dr. Radut.