On Day Two of the Republican National Convention, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said he was expecting less of the same. He got his wish, but not without some dust-ups at a late afternoon rally at Mear Park in St. Paul’s Lowertown.
In protests Monday, nearly 300 people were arrested when small groups broke off from the main anti-war march and raised havoc in several areas of downtown.
By contrast, early Tuesday evening, police reported just a handful of arrests for minor infractions during the day, but a late-afternoon rally and march created a new set of problems.
Rally focuses on homelessness and poverty
An estimated 500 people gathered in Mears Park, a half-mile from the arena wnere GOP delegates were gathering to meet, to hear speeches about homelessness and poverty. The group had a permit for the park and the subsequent march but apparently neglected to get a permit for the electricity in the park, and the proceedings were delayed while city workers were called to connect the power.
Once the speeches became audible, though, a disturbance arose on the southeast side of the park, at Fourth and Wacouta streets. It was unclear what sparked the confrontation between youthful protesters and police, but officers in riot gear quickly appeared, backed up by bicycle cops in shorts and several officers on horseback.
Rings of police surrounded a team that handcuffed a young woman, then the police groups shifted en masse to move the detainee to a waiting police car across the intersection. During this movement, dozens of bystanders watched closely, and some taunted police for enforcing for what they called “heavy-handed” tactics.
One woman lunged and gestured at one of the horses, which jumped and backed into the crowd. Then in the intersection, other officers surrounded and handcuffed several more protesters, although it was not clear what provoked the arrests.
Some in the crowd chanted: “Let them go.”
At this point, pepper spray was shot into the crowd, hitting one agitator and one middle-age man who appeared to be one of the peaceful protesters gathered at the site.
Dozens in the crowd did seem eager to agitate, but dozens also were journalists, and some were folks who lived in nearby apartments and condos, returning home from work.
Another commotion near the park drew a crowd of reporters, but it turned out to be a bystander having a seizure. The cameras went elsewhere.
Close to 6 p.m., the main group in the park — with its numbers swelling by hundreds — headed out for a lengthy march that would ultimately end near the Xcel Energy Center, where the Republican convention would be in session.
Pods of officers in riot gear waited in groups of about 20 in parking lots and on sidewalks on the edges of the park. When the march began, some of the troops lined the sidewalks to keep the marchers in the street, while 35 more officers in full gear followed along behind the march, keeping stragglers from falling too far behind.
At least two caravans of police cars and vans, filled with the riot-equipped officers, rolled out of the Lowertown area, apparently in an attempt to get the officers ahead of the marchers. The final police car in one group was marked: “St. Paul School Patrol.”
In a briefing this morning, Harrington said he was “looking for more normality” today but noted there are still people in town who hope to disrupt the convention, citing those who he said planned to block roads, sabotage buses and break through barriers.
“There should be fewer than yesterday, but there still some out there with that same mission,” he said.
There were four scheduled protest events today, and police said they will be watching them closely to be sure they don’t evolve into illegal activity or are co-opted by others planning mischief.
Downtown St. Paul — outside the immediate area of the Xcel Energy Center — was unusually quiet this morning, with some companies urged employees to work from home or work flexible hours to avoid the afternoon and evening disruptions when the delegate buses arrive from Minneapolis and suburbs.
Also, some workers and residents decided to take a vacation to avoid the expected crowds and disruptions.
This morning, schoolchildren at a downtown elementary school and several charter schools arrived safely and on time, school officials said.
Police had good information
Police credited good advance information in helping authorities prepare for the groups coming to town intending to disrupt the convention. The groups follow a certain script, Harrington said. That helped police prepare. Search warrants and arrests made prior to the convention helped control the situation, he said.
“That kept us from being hit with Molotov cocktails that were being made at those locations,” he said. Those early arrests “prevented the span of criminal activity from being larger.”
(Lawyers and spokesmen for those arrested in weekend raids have denied that weapons were being stockpiled.)
Harrington was adamant in insisting that police efforts had been successful; dozens of riot troops — police and National Guard members — were deployed to many downtown locations to deal with the roving groups of break-away participants in Monday’s march.
“Those groups intended to stop the convention, and they failed. Those who came to protest peacefully, and those who came to have their voices heard at the convention, they succeeded,” he said.
Many felony arrests
Harrington said the Monday arrests included 120 felony charges (for rioting, aggravated damage to property and assault), 51 gross misdemeanors (mostly property damage) and 103 misdemeanors.
He said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, whose office is processing those arrested at the nearby jail, gave him those numbers.
He also said nine others were arrested overnight in Minneapolis, apparently for protest-related activities.
Many of those arrested in St. Paul refused to give their names and have been booked as “John Does,” he said. Officials will try to use fingerprints and other methods to obtain identities.
One woman from out-of-state called asking about the whereabouts of her two juvenile children, who’d said they were going to St. Paul for the convention. Police checked and told her both were safe but in custody.
Harrington said rocks were thrown at buses carrying delegates. On e had to slow down, but it safely reached the arena. One delegate from Connecticut was doused with a “noxious fluid,” police said.
Among those arrested Monday was international investigative radio reporter Amy Goodman and two of her producers. She said her crew was covering the news, not breaking any laws, when arrested. She said she’d been arrested once before in her decades-long international reporting experience: by Indonesian officials while she was covering the independence movement in East Timor.
Harrington said he’d investigate her complaints.
Joe Kimball reports on St. Paul City Hall, Ramsey County politic and other topics. He can be reached at jkimball [at] minnpost [dot] com.