Antiwar march ends in tense standoff, 396 arrests

  • Updated: September 5, 2008 - 10:10 AM

The final night of the convention led to confrontations between police and protesters. At least 396 people were arrested, an official said this morning.

Police arrested scores more people Thursday night after another series of tense showdowns with protesters on the final night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Sweeping into the State Capitol grounds in riot gear, police used snowplows, horses and dump trucks to seal off downtown from antiwar demonstrators attempting a march to the Xcel Energy Center.

"They chose not to leave when told to do so and now everyone's paying the price," said one officer on the scene.

This morning, the Joint Information Center said 396 people were arrested during Thursday's demonstrations, and a total of 818 people were arrested during the four-day convention. The numbers are preliminary; an official count will be released later today, said a spokeswoman for the center,  which has been providing information about arrests and security during the convention.

Most of those arrested were ticketed and released, the spokeswoman said.

Thursday night, as police blocked off bridges to stop demonstrators from getting downtown, a rolling series of sit-down protests started on the John Ireland Boulevard bridge over Interstate 94. The arrests ended with more than 200 demonstrators, squatting with their hands on their heads, taken into custody on the Marion Street bridge.

Police used tear gas and pepper spray to quell some of the unrest.

A group of more than 700 demonstrators had a permit to rally and march. But they were angry the permit expired at 5 p.m., before delegates began arriving at the Xcel Energy Center for GOP presidential nominee John McCain's acceptance speech.

Among those arrested were two Associated Press reporters covering the event. They were issued a citation and detained, along with a KARE-11 TV photographer and more than a dozen other members of the media. All were released later in the evening.

"They're trying to steal our protest -- we have to ignore the police intimidation," Katrina Plotz, an organizer with the Anti-War Committee, hollered from a stage in front of the Capitol steps.

But ignoring the police wasn't easy during one of the largest shows of force on the fifth straight day of confrontations in St. Paul.

Later, as hundreds sat down on the John Ireland bridge, Plotz called the police action "a ridiculous blatant attempt to shut down protest."

Michelle Gross, president of Community United Against Police Brutality, said the police provoked the tension.

"It's egregious," she said. "I've been an activist for 35 years and I've never seen anything like this. They're trying to crush any amount of dissent."

The day's first salvo

The antiwar rally was slated to start at 4 p.m. and, within minutes, a skirmish erupted. St. Paul Police Sgt. John Lozoya said officers moved in to arrest a male who was suspected of breaking a downtown Macy's window on Monday.

Shouting "Let them go! Let them go!" protesters surrounded police as they arrested the suspect and a woman with him. With protesters circling, camera-toting media members and then police on horseback rushed in. Within 15 minutes, the showdown eased and demonstrators started chanting: "No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East."

Organizers at first said police would let them march despite their expired permit, but Lozoya said orders came down to halt the demonstrators. Several of the leaders of Monday's march of 10,000 demonstrators wound up getting arrested Thursday night in sit-down acts of civil disobedience.

Anticipating trouble after more than 400 arrests this week, several downtown employers closed early to allow workers to avoid traffic.

Earlier Thursday, more than 200 teenagers gathered at the Capitol to protest military recruiters in schools and spending of tax dollars on the military instead of education.

Organized by Youth Against War and Racism, the group included some students who had walked out of area high schools at 11 a.m. in protest. After the gathering at the Capitol, the students held a peaceful march to Harriet Island.

"The Republican National Convention is going on and I don't agree with a lot of their stances on the war," said 17-year-old Katharine Anderson, who walked out of the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

She was at the protest with Caleb McMahon, who said that he walked out of the school to protest to show that students and young people who can't vote still have strong political opinions forming. "It's not like people suddenly appear once they turn 18," he said. • 612-673-4767. Staff writers Anthony Lonetree, H.J. Cummins, Emily Johns and Kevin Giles contributed to this report.

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