800 arrested at RNC
September 5, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn. ” Percussion grenades, tear gas and nearly 400 arrests marked the final anti-war march during the Republican National Convention. More than 800 arrests were reported during a week of sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent dissent.
Anti-war protesters rallied Thursday at the state Capitol and then planned to march to Xcel Energy Center, where Sen. John McCain was due to accept the GOP presidential nomination. But their permit had expired, and police ” in riot gear and using horses, snow plows and dump trucks ” blocked their way.
For hours, police let the protesters amble from one blocked intersection to another. But then the arrests began in earnest. At least 19 journalists, including two reporters from The Associated Press, were among those held by police.
Anti-war protesters briefly interrupted McCain as he addressed delegates Thursday night. Three protesters, one with a sign that read “You can’t win an occupation” on one side and “McCain votes against vets” on the other, were removed from the hall by security officers. McCain asked that supporters not be “diverted by the crowd noise and the static.”
Earlier, the march to the Xcel Energy Center was relaxed at first and even festive.
Younger people did cartwheels. Tourists came by to check out the spectacle. The chants, which were political at the outset, turned silly a couple hours in.
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“You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off the riot suit,” protesters serenaded those blocking their path.
When police blocked the path to Xcel, a cat-and-mouse game ensued as protesters moved around the Capitol area, splintered, and then organized into a marching force again. 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.
The event ended with about 200 protesters, along with AP reporters Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski and other members of the media, trapped on a bridge. 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 were issued citations for unlawful assembly and released.
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.”
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.