Final day of tense anti-war protests goes out with a flash bang
Pioneer Press / Article Last Updated: 09/05/2008 12:23:15 AM CDTPioneer Press
By the time Sen. John McCain finished his speech and delegates let out of the Xcel Energy Center, downtown was so devoid of activists that a large diverse crowd gathered in Rice Park couldn’t even muster a unified cheer, despite many signs indicating anti- Republican sentiments.
In short, a stranger might not know this is a democratic town.
The end came after protestors who had rallied at the Capitol grounds made several unsuccessful attempts Thursday night to reach the X, site of the Republican National Convention. Large rows of armed law enforcement officials, many on bicycle or horseback, stopped them at multiple highway bridges and prevented them from crossing.
At about 8 p.m., some 200 protestors walked across the Capitol grounds and onto Marion Street, where police used smoke and flash bangs to deter them from turning onto University Avenue. Panicked protestors fled between cars in the parking lot of the Sears building, and some were met by police with nightsticks and pepper spray.
Matthew Hurt, a legal observer with the Minnesota Lawyers Guild, was among those detained near Sears. He yelled out to his colleagues: “We were told to disperse west. This is west. We are being arrested.”
Jonathan Jacobsen, 20, of Minneapolis, said he was part of a big group that was running across the Marion Street bridge when they were blocked by police. “The actions by police were 100 percent unprovoked,” Jacobsen said. “We were almarching peacefully.”
Michael Campion, state public safety commissioner, said that “as many as a couple hundred” people were detained on the Marion Street Bridge. “Frankly, I hope it’s the end so everyone can go home,” Campion said. “We all thought there would be activity, particularly the first night and last night.” He said he was unsure if flash bombs or tear gas had been deployed.
Many of those detained on the bridge were loaded onto waiting Metro transit buses being used as police clamped down on a protest arresting hundreds last night.
Another group of 20 to 30 protesters were being detained at St. Anthony Avenue and Marion Street, near the Sears parking lot, with their hands on their head as police went through their bags with flashlights.As of 10:30 p.m., about 88 protestors had been booked into the Ramsey County Jail, according to the Joint Information Center.
The arrests capped a day that began relatively peacefully with a student march against war and racism that drew about 100. The student group merged with about 60 people who were on Harriet Island for a peace picnic organized by FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley.
By 4:00 p.m., the Anti-War Committee had begun to gather at the Capitol grounds, with about 1,000 coming together for speeches and music, according to Mary Aby, a group organizer. As the last speaker was wrapping up her speech around 4:50 p.m., a police officer announced over the loudspeaker: “Your permit will expire at 5 p.m. At that point you don’t have a right to march.” According to Aby, the group had a permit for the rally at the Capitol until 8 p.m. She said police in the crowd were basically provoking protesters.
She said St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom told them that people would be allowed in the public viewing area – the triangle-shaped area in front of the Dorothy Day Center near the Xcel Energy Center.
“There were groups of permits, but all those permits have either expired or been revoked,” said Minneapolis police Sgt. Bill Palmer of the Joint Information Center. “Once a permit expires or is revoked, they’ve got to leave the area,” he said. If people have no permit to assemble, police can arrest protesters for “presence at an unlawful assembly,” Palmer said. Marching without a valid permit causes traffic problems, which can be frustrating to motorists trying to get out of downtown and to police trying to regulate the situation, Palmer said.
Just before 5:00 p.m., the woman who was speaking at the protest said: “They don’t respect permits anyway. We have the right to be here. And they interrupted us.” The group began marching. The crowd first walked into a row of police officers gathered near the Peace and Police Officers memorial at Cedar Avenue and 12th Streets. Police donned their gas masks and appeared ready to spray into the crowd. The crowd turned onto Rice Street.
Police blocked traffic from entering Wabasha and Cedar streets, and turned marchers toward the Minnesota History Center.
Protesters and police in riot gear faced off at John Ireland Boulevard, and protestors ended up on the bridge. Police in riot gear were on bicycles, on foot and on horses. Horses wore face shields.
Some protesters sat down in the street, chanting “Whose war? Their war!” “Whose streets? Our streets!” About a dozen protesters on bicycles turned slow circles counterclockwise. Others drew slogans and pictures in chalk on the street. “Arrest Cheney” “Another world is possible”
After leaving John Ireland Boulevard, protesters circled back toward the State Capitol. Some ran across the Capitol lawn toward downtown, but police officers on bicycles and horses raced them to the path and headed them off.
Just after 7:30 p.m., some protesters left the standoff/sit-in at 12th and Cedar streets for the Capitol grounds. As they passed the Capitol, the sprinklers went off, prompting some to start dancing.
At 12th and Cedar Streets, police in riot gear took the protesters’ green banner and effigy of John McCain. About 30 protesters sat in the intersection, making peace signs with their fingers. Police took more than 12 people into custody. Movable steel barricades and dump trucks blocked the intersection.
Several hundred other protesters watched from outside the perimeter. A group of 200 heckled police at the south end of the Cedar Street bridge.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and a group of Guardian Angels were also on the scene. Some in the crowd were calling the Angels “sellouts” because they are with the police.
By 8:10 p.m., about 200 people had moved to the Sears parking lot.
# One person was arrested in connection with vandalism of the Macy’s store in downtown St. Paul on Monday, said St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh. That person is not the only one being sought in the case, Walsh said.
# Eight cops in riot gear gathered outside Mayor Chris Coleman’s office as lawyers for demonstrators and detainees issued their demands. Mayoral spokesman Bob Hume escorted the lawyers and activists from the building and left peacefully. Chris Hermes of the National Lawyers Guild said he was not satisfied with the response and was shocked that riot police showed up. Hume said he did not call them in and would relay their demands to the mayor.
# Rumors spread that law enforcement officals had asked downtown businesses to close early. Those rumors were false, according to the Joint Information Center. Here’s the link.
John Brewer, Richard Chin, Jason Hoppin, Michael Marchio, Elizabeth Mohr, Dave Orrick and Tad Vezner contributed to this report.