"The tactic of blocking people on the bridge could very well have prevented a lot of activity later tonight. Clearly there were a number of people with no intention of being law-abiding tonight."
-- Sheriff in St. Paul
Police Arrest 200 in March on GOP Convention, Including Journalists
Friday 05 September 2008
by: Ryan J. Foley and Martiga Lohn, The Associated Press
Over 600 people were arrested over the past week in St. Paul during protests at the Republican Convention, including at least two dozen reporters. (Photo: Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune)
St. Paul, Minnesota - Police surrounded and arrested about 200 protesters Thursday night after a lengthy series of marches and sit-ins timed to coincide with Sen. John McCain's acceptance of the Republican Party's nomination for president.
Caught up in the clash were several reporters assigned to cover the event, including Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press. Officers ordered them to sit on the pavement on a bridge over Interstate 94 and to keep their hands over their heads as they were led away two at a time.
The arrests came three days after AP photographer Matt Rourke, also on assignment covering the protests, was arrested. He was released without being charged Monday after being held for several hours. Forliti and Krawczynski, who were among at least 19 members of the media detained, were issued citations for unlawful assembly and released.
Also see below:
"If You Are on This Bridge You Are Under Arrest" •
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the St. Paul police department and its police chief decided that members of the media would be issued citations and released.
Fletcher said he expected most of the charges would be for unlawful assembly.
"Whoever got arrested was whoever didn't disperse and was still on the bridge," Fletcher said. "The tactic of blocking people on the bridge could very well have prevented a lot of activity later tonight. Clearly there were a number of people with no intention of being law-abiding tonight."
The confrontation resulted in at least 200 arrests, Fletcher said. Protesters had gone ahead with a planned march near the state Capitol even though their permit had expired.
The protest began at 4 p.m. with a rally on the Capitol Mall. When marchers tried an hour later to march from the Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where McCain accepted his party's nomination for president, they were stopped by lines of police in gas masks and riot gear.
Police told them their permit to march expired at 5 p.m.
Marchers tried to cross two different bridges leading from the Capitol to the Republican National Convention site but were blocked by the officers backed by snow plows and other vehicles.
A cat-and-mouse game followed as protesters moved around the Capitol area, splintered, and then organized into a marching force again. The size of the crowd varied from a high of about 1,000 down to a hundred and back to around 500.
About three hours into the standoff, about 300 protesters sat down on a major thoroughfare and police closed the four-lane boulevard. Officers then set off smoke bombs and fired seven percussion grenades, causing protesters to scatter.
Some of the scattering protesters entered a residential area north of the Capitol. Later, at least three smoke bombs were discharged in the area of apartments and houses.
About two hours into the standoff, police began arresting people and police were still processing people more than three hours later.
"The important thing is even though we didn't have a permit to march, people have decided they want to keep protesting despite all these riot police," said Meredith Aby, a member of the Anti-War Committee.
Even as protesters were being arrested, the mood was much more relaxed than earlier in the week. It even turned festive at times.
More than 600 people have been arrested in the past week, most on Monday, when violence broke out at the end of another anti-war march.
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
"If You Are on This Bridge You Are Under Arrest"
Friday 05 September 2008
by: Paul Demko, The Minnesota Independent
I was going to call it a night. After nearly three hours of observing the cat-and-mouse game between protesters and police the scene was starting to get tiresome. (Best protester chant of the night: "You're hot, you're cute, now take off you're riot suit.")
I planned to meet a friend for a drink at the Great Waters Brewing Company in downtown St. Paul. But this notion was foiled by the fact that dozens of cops in riot gear were blocking the bridge at Rice Street and John Ireland Boulevard. "There's an explosive device that the bomb squad is investigating," we were told. Other routes into downtown were also being blocked by police officers. There seemed to be no route out of the chaos.
So I headed north towards University Avenue, where the protesters appeared to be gravitating. A cloud of smoke could be scene near the Greyhound bus station. I broke into a jog through the Sears parking lot with a crowd of folks to see what was happening. Cops on bicycles were swarming all around. Soon the smoke was accompanied by percussive grenades.
As I approached the west end of the Sears building, deafening blasts began echoing all around me. A cop on a megaphone barked an order: "This is the police department. Your main method of leaving is southbound."
I retreated in a crowd towards the Marion Street bridge over I-94. Police officers in riot gear, wielding cans of mace, followed closely behind. "You're gonna get sprayed if you don't move," they stated repeatedly through their gas masks. Then more percussive grenades and smoke bombs, this time in the direction we were being directed by the cops to travel. So I turned and headed east, only to be confronted by more deafening blasts.
Eventually I ended up at the edge of the Marion Street bridge. The person directly in front of me approached an officer, explaining that he was trying to get to work. The cop's response: "Move your feet. You should have left a long time ago."
As we walked across the bridge, an officer addressed the crowd through a megaphone. "Sit down and put your hands on your head," he said. "If you are on this bridge, you are under arrest." Each end of the span was now surrounded by dozens of cops in riot gear. There were roughly (and this a highly arbitrary estimate) 400 people on the bridge.
After about fifteen minutes, the officers began searching and handcuffing everyone on the bridge. "Hands on your head," they repeatedly barked, cans of mace at the ready. A gentleman a few feet away from me - who I believe was a journalist - informed the officers that he was carrying a gun as they began to arrest him. They pulled him away from the crowd and a team of cops searched him and presumably removed the weapon.
Not long afterwards I was restrained in plasticuffs, thoroughly searched and seated on a sidewalk with other people who were being detained. My status as a journalist meant that I did not spend much time in cuffs. They segregated reporters and legal observers from the rest of the detainees. Our handcuffs were removed and we were seated on a grass median. Metro Transit buses were waiting to transport the not-so-fortunate others, presumably to the Ramsey County Jail.
Eventually I was placed in a van with eight others. We were driven across the Sears parking lot, given a citation for unlawful assembly and released. I got to keep my pair of plasticuffs as a souvenir. But the cops still have two of my pens.