CAMP letter to neighbors
A Letter to the Neighbors of the Community Arts and Media Project (CAMP)
at Cherokee and Minnesota Streets
On the police presence in and around our building this weekend
What happened on Friday As many of you witnessed, police raided the bulding at the south-east corner of Cherokee and Minnesota streets on Friday, May 16th. They first gained access to the building by threatening to condemn the building if we did not consent to a buliding inspection. The city inspector had to be accompanied by a policeman "for his safety". Over ten policeman entered the building without a search warrant. No citations were issued or major problems found.
What followed was a four hour wait for a judge to issue a legal search warrant and an extensive search of the building. The search warrant was issued to look for U-locks (for bikes) molotov cocktails, PVC pipe, whips, chains, nails with washers attached and "Other instruments of Crime that may be used during protest situations". The police have targeted the residents and visitors of the building as violent anarchist activists.
The list of what was actually found and seized is far less intimidating. The full list follows, as taken from the receipt of seized property I was given.
Seized property: (items in parentheses are my comments): a pottery kiln, clay, cones and spikes for kiln, box of sponge balls, 1 bucket and 2 boxes of nails, (camping stove) fuel, a cd drive for a computer, a thin chain (for ductwork), 2 cell phone bills (are those dangerous?), a leather strap, 5 mirrors, 3 walkie talkies, a diary, some papers (which they wouldn't let me examine), 2 respirators (they called them gas masks, I call them lead protection) rockclimbing equipment, a kazoo and 2 large paper mache effigies.
Also discovered missing so far are a memory card for a digital camera, a blue bike with wide handlebars and other journals.
People leaving the building just prior to the raid were arrested- one while walking down the street (charged with demonstrating), one who was standing out front waiting to be picked up by his girlfriend, and one who was driving away because he did not care to be part of the raid.
Why we are here- Some of you neighbors have met some of us, some of us have hung out together, and some of you we haven't yet met. Andy and I (Art) have lived here since January, after we received a legal occupancy permit for 3022A Cherokee St. Tom and Eric are in the process of moving in, as we get occupancy permits for 3024A. We are a part of the group of organizations that wanted to come together to create a community space for our organizations, and at the same time create a friendly neighborhood space where we could share our resources and skills. That is why we have been trying to create a bike workshop in the garages, that is why we are renovating 3022 to be a free and public library and computer lab. That is why we have shown free movies and a puppet show in the backyard, and that is why we are trying to solidify funds and plans to build handicapped accesibility ramps so that we may obtain legal occupancy permits for all of the first floor apaces, two of which will mainly be large, open meeting spaces for events and meetings, with a focus on education and artwork as tools for creating our voice and making it heard.
Because the group that initiated this project is mostly white, we have tried to remain conscious of what negative effect our presence could have. Often gentrification follows young white artists that move into low income neighborhoods. Gentrification here may happen if higher income people, generally white, decide that this is the hip neighborhood to be in and start buying property and fixing them up real nice- this will drive up rent rates, increase police harassment of people of color (if that is even possible here), and eventually drive out the people who are the culture of this area. We do not want this! We desire that the people here now can be empowered by our skills and resources, and that we be empowered by learning from you and working with you.
Why our visitors are here this weekend- One issue that we are concerned with is Genetically Modified (GM) crops. St. Louis is home to Monsanto, one of the biggest corporations producing and selling GM crops. Many of these are largely untested for saftey, but they are in many of the foods you can buy at Schnucks, and are unlabeled. They are in the lunches that your children are given at school. Farmers and countries who do not accept these crops are experiencing many difficulties- GM crops pollinate neighboring fields and then those farmers are liable to be sued under copyright infringement. Organic farmers can not be certified organic when a GM crop has polluted their fields. Europe and many "third-world" countries have refused U.S. produce because of the GM crops grown here, for they refuse to grow them in their countries.
Monsanto is hosting the World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis this weekend, where they gather numerous government officials and supporters of the GM foods industry. Many people want to protest this event because they feel the science is dangerous, the benefits are few, and too much tax money is supporting these big corporations instead of family farms. The plan is non-violent protest- despite what the news channels and the Post-Dispatch have hyped up. There are not thousands of anarchists coming to town- but there are a few (and they are not violent!). There are also journalists, community workers, farmers and a bike circus. That is why the police did not find any molotov cocktails but they did impound bikes, seize puppets and a kazoo. We are helping out-of-town people find housing with local people, since most of them have as much money as I do to spend on hotels- none.
What will happen now- Well, that's a real good question! Hopefully the police will return our possessions on Wednesday like they promised, because its hard to do rehab on a building when the police have seized all of your nails and respirators. We hope that we are allowed to protest the World Agricultural Forum peacefully, and we hope the police don't use tear gas and tazers like they have promised us. We hope that the city inspectors act reasonably with us and are understanding that we have a shoestring budget and that the rehab is being done mostly by volunteers. We hope that we can integrate ourselves into this neighborhoood for the mutual benefit of all of us. We want to see people have an opportunity to use the pottery studio, computer lab and bike workshop that we have been working to create. We don't want our lives to be confined by the police, exploitive jobs and political repression- we want our lives to be defined by our creations, our dreams our artwork and our strength as a community to love and care for everyone around us.
The CAMP projectis only what people make it- so we would love to have neighborhood people become part of it, shape it to be what they want, and even take it over. Lets make this neighorborhood a great place for us to live out our lives.