Some violent during war protest
Tribune photo by Scott Wente
ST. PAUL -- An anti-war march at the Republican National Convention Monday drew fewer protesters than predicted, turned violent in clashes between police and some demonstrators who were arrested for damaging property and injuring police and delegates.
Protester-police confrontations led to more than 160 arrests, but organizers of the Coalition to March on the RNC -- which sought a police permit for the protest - said people taking part in their march had been told to protest peacefully and avoid criminal activity.
Other, fringe groups of demonstrators clashed with police, many of whom wore riot gear and carried batons, pepper spray and plastic straps used as hand-cuffs. St. Paul police called in Minnesota National Guard troops to help control crowds in the downtown area.
An estimated 10,000 people from more than 100 anti-war and other organizations rallied outside the Minnesota Capitol before marching to the Xcel Energy Center, site of the convention, and returning to the Capitol. Organizers claimed the crowd was three times that.
Most protesters walked within the designated downtown route and did not confront police, though some called the law enforcement presence excessive and designed to provoke demonstrators.
"I just don't think people are here for that reason," said Colette Knudsen of Duluth as walked through downtown carrying an anti-Iraqi war sign. "People are here to raise their voices, not their fists."
Police began making arrests after demonstrators calling themselves anarchists broke windows, damaged vehicles, started a fire, punched a police officer and injured convention delegates. By Monday evening, the St. Paul Joint Information Center reported the arrest total at 163.
The protest gained media attention after GOP convention activity was limited to official business because of the Gulf Coast hurricane.
Protesters left the Minnesota Capitol around 1 p.m. with those in the front of the long line reaching a fenced-in zone near the Xcel Energy Center about an hour later - more than one hour before the convention convened.
The ultimate targets for many of the protesters' messages - President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney - canceled their Monday night speeches to the convention a day earlier because of Hurricane Gustav's threat to the Gulf Coast. Theirs were among all political speeches scrapped from the convention's Monday agenda due to the storm.
Protesters discussed altering their plans because of the hurricane, but ultimately went forward without major changes. They said participants were arriving from all over the country and that there are people within their ranks who will help storm victims in the coming days and weeks.
"We are taking today to protest, but that doesn't mean we're not concerned about what's gong on down there," Vicki Andrews of Grand Rapids said.
When protesters neared the Xcel Energy Center, they were directed into a fenced-in zone near the arena but not easily visible from where convention delegates were entering the building.
A small group of pro-military activists greeted the protesters near the arena with signs that read: "Victory over terrorism - Let our soldiers win."
Karl Hochmuth of Cannon Falls said he and his wife, Betty, showed up for the counter-demonstration "just to show our support for the troops."
"I think maybe they don't understand all the issues and they're just protesting for the sake of protesting," Karl Hochmuth said as anti-war demonstrators walked by.
"Shame on you," protesters chanted to the Hochmuths and others.
Police lined downtown streets at strategic locations, blocking traffic from entering the protest route and preventing protesters, journalists and observers from walking along some streets near the route.
The Twin Cities-area commuter bus service suspended service in downtown St. Paul for a time Monday afternoon because of traffic congestion caused by the protest.
Smaller groups of protesters dressed in dark clothing and wearing goggles and face masks marched separate from but near the permitted protest, at times snapping at journalists who followed them.
"Stop taking pictures," one young woman yelled as another demonstrator gestured angrily at photographers.