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Despite more than 800 arrests, St. Paul police and mayor call convention a big success

The numbers are in.

Total arrests: 818 — 716 in St. Paul for activities related to the Republican National Convention and another 102 in Minneapolis.

And yet, from a police perspective, it was a big success, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said at a morning wrap-up briefing. “Nothing burned. No one was badly injured, and except for a few windows broken, there was no major damage to property.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman joined the chief, and he, too, declared victory.

“Our goal was to have a safe and successful convention, and clearly we have done that,” Coleman said.

All week, there were torrents of email and calls to City Hall expressing concern about the constant presence of riot-gear-wearing police officers and National Guard soldiers.

City officials, however, have said repeatedly that a strong police presence was needed to prepare for and respond to planned attacks on the convention by up to 500 anarchists who’d come to town to try to disrupt the convention.

“It wasn’t easy,” Coleman said. “There were threats to the city and people here to disrupt. They did not succeed.”

Final convention day brings nearly 400 arrests

Nearly 400 people were arrested Thursday, the final day of the convention. Police had prepared for a last-ditch attempt to raise havoc and subtly switched strategies.

“We found out that they liked, as a strategy, to have us chase them around downtown,” Harrington said. So police adjusted, putting pods of troops in strategic places where they might expect trouble.

And it appeared on Thursday night that the police strategy was to contain anti-war protesters and the anarchists amid them to the Capitol side of the freeway, barring the way to the convention area, where the delegates and media congregated.

Earlier, police uncovered information that the anarchist groups would use Molotov cocktails to start fires downtown, at the Xcel Energy Center, the convention site, and at a public viewing and speaking area, about a block away from the arena, officials said.

Using search warrants and traffic stops, Harrington said that some Molotov cocktails — and the makings for  others — were confiscated before they could be used.

Three small protest rallies went off peacefully Thursday, but a final anti-war rally on the Capitol grounds got out of hand. The group’s permit expired at 5 p.m., and police asked them to move along. But several hundred remained in the area, unmoving, and a face-off ensued.

Mounted officers, bike cops and teams of riot-police kept the group hemmed in near a Capitol area parking lot, near Cedar and 12th streets, across from the Armory.

For several hours, no one moved. About six to 12 people who provoked police were arrested from that group, as police blocked the major bridges across I-94 that lead from the Capitol into downtown. About 8 p.m. the group dispersed, heading toward the Capitol building and University Avenue. There, the crowd reassembled.

Police had also blocked the Marion Street bridge, so when protesters couldn’t proceed, and wouldn’t disperse, arrests were made. Several reporters and photographers were caught up in the mass arrests and processed.

In all, about 30 people who had media credentials or said they were members of the media were arrested over the four days, Harrington said.

The police chief told of one young woman with a video camera who told police she was part of the media. Later, however, when asked who she worked for, she said: “Walgreens, in Portland, Oregon.”

Of the 800-plus arrests, about 25 were for felony or gross misdemeanor charges; the bulk of the rest were misdemeanor arrests for unlawful assembly.

Mayor Coleman said the convention bottom line for him was seeing MSNBC broadcasting from Rice Park, CNN from the Eagle Street Grille and other national and international media mentioning St. Paul and its assets in their newscasts.

“Jon Stewart had the skyline of St. Paul over his shoulder as he told the most fictional news of the night.”

And Coleman said 320 delegates and their families took a cruise on the Mississippi River Thursday, and as they disembarked, many told him that St. Paul was beautiful and welcoming and they couldn’t wait to come back.

“That’s why we started this venture two years ago,” he said.

Police spokesman Tom Walsh, who had been working on RNC planning for months, summed things up when he said: “The city’s intact.”

Asked if he had worried that it wouldn’t be, he said: “No, but when things started happening Monday [the day windows were broken and an officer struck from behind] and we saw the level of violence, I started to wonder.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/05/2008 - 03:34 pm.

    So we met our “goal” of having a safe and successful convention.”

    Well, perhaps for those who, like the mayor,are treated with deference by law enforcement wherever they go. For the 800-plus citizens (many manhandled by the FBI and Ramsey County Sheriff-led forces) who were arrested (some for no reason except failure to “move” quickly enough; many in spite of media badges; some who were simply passers-by).

    The object of those hordes of police in black riot gear, loud motorcycles, cop cars with sirens shrieking, block-offed streets and bridges is, I believe, meant to cow us. Why some Ramsey County jailers refused needed medication and/or medical treatment to prisoners is a mystery to me, unless it grew out of anger on their part.

    Almost all demonstrators were practicing peaceful dissent. A few were trouble-makers; a very few were dangerous. It makes me sad to see that so many people in the downtown/capitol area were treated as though they were in the “dangerous” category. “Police state” is an accurate way to desribe St. Paul this week.

    Clue in the mayor, somebody.

  2. Submitted by B Maginnis on 09/05/2008 - 02:00 pm.

    “Sucess” to law enforcement IS arrests, Joe.

    In this case it means 800 criminals were apprehended and prevented from further disruption of the event, of the risk to public’s safety, and further destruction of private property.

    You need to rethink your headline.

  3. Submitted by scott anderson on 09/05/2008 - 04:31 pm.

    Joe Kimball, please reconsider your choice of the word “Despite” in your headline . . . really, Joe, “Despite”???

    I think “Because of” would have been the better choice.

    Kudos to the Mayor and planning committees and police force and national guard—for containing the incidents, arresting lawbreakers, and protecting the public. Your presence was not disturbing or “a concern”, but a comfort to us all.

    Yes, a “success” BECAUSE of your presence and subsequent arrests, not despite it.

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 09/05/2008 - 04:51 pm.

    BD, people aren’t criminals just because they got arrested. If you happened by at the wrong moment, you would be one of these people you denounce as “criminals”. You really think 800 people planned to burn things? St. Paul would still be burning if that was the case. Or maybe your definition of criminals includes journalists and people trying to get to work.

    By the way Joe, a bunch of your fellow journalists were maced and arrested even after identifying themselves to police. Read the account by your colleague on Minnesota Independent of how he was given contradictory orders by police and identified by police as a journalist, yet was still arrested. Why aren’t you denouncing this? It could have been you.

  5. Submitted by Brian Larson on 09/06/2008 - 04:57 am.

    What does the large number of arrests have to do with the RNC being successful? I guess Joe Kimball, by using the word “despite”, thinks low numbers of arrests equals successful. Not if there are high numbers of crimes.
    Maybe he is sympathetic to criminals if they are Anti-Republican.

  6. Submitted by George Hayduke on 09/07/2008 - 10:55 am.

    Of course it was a success from the cops’ standpoint. They were handed a $50 million federal slush fund to buy loads of new riot gear, cameras and other instruments of surveillance. And you can bet Bob Fletcher and his gang plans to keep those cameras trained on law-abiding citizens from here on too. Welcome to 1984.

    Kimball’s writing is no different than the rest of the lame mainstream press. Where’s the mention about journalists arrested and gassed? Where’s the mention about the confiscation of political literature before the convention by Fletcher’s thugs? How about the billboards that were taken down by CBS? Or the electronic billboard that was banned from the capitol grounds because it might broadcast speech that offends Republicans? Go back to the Strib, Joe. You’re just watering down independent media here.

    For the real story, jump over to

  7. Submitted by Franklin Green on 09/08/2008 - 10:00 am.

    I thought your story was well written from the perspective that the government employees prevented the public from peacefully demonstrating.

    It is too bad in todays society that we have lost our ability to secure our First Amendment Free Speech opportunities.

    This is a great example of how the government would prefer to assault those attempting to show their discord through a peaceable means.

    You note that the anarchists were preparing to use Molotov cocktails to disrupt the convention and Harrington comments that they confiscated some, but what the article does not disclose is whether or not these devices were in fact discovered and confiscated. How are we to believe those in military control if there is no evidence.
    Is it the media’s responsibility to investigate these empty claims to provide the truth to the public, as we find the government entities to be less than truthful, especially when they are conveniently keeping the public from exercising their rights?

    Shame on the Mayor, the city of Minneapolis and the Republicans for not allowing the people to speak

  8. Submitted by Tom Poe on 09/06/2008 - 08:02 pm.

    There are some who believe the intent of the overwhelming police and overreaching through excessive force, also employed tactics designed to “target” journalists documenting the events this week. If true, the idea of criminalizing citizens who do not “embed” themselves with the police is disgusting. It’s one thing to propagandize the dissenters and protesters as anarchists, prone to violence through lies. It’s another to overtly attempt to silence them through police state conduct. Those with criminal records, such as the young lady journalist who must rely on minimum wage work, will find it hard to move to the next minimum wage job, because the police and local officials don’t object to abuse of the Patriot Act.

  9. Submitted by Mordecai Specktor on 09/11/2008 - 10:49 am.

    Joe Kimball writes: “Using search warrants and traffic stops, Harrington said that some Molotov cocktails — and the makings for others — were confiscated before they could be used.”

    There are two guys from Texas in jail for allegedly having molotov cocktails. But is Harrington also talking about items confiscated from Mpls. houses in the Aug. 30 SWAT team raids? The search warrants for the three houses specified all kinds of common household items (and “urine and feces”).

    Do any readers have the following in their house and garage: bottles, rags, motor oil, gasoline, sugar? You’ve got the makings for a Molotov cocktail.

    DISCLOSURE: My son Max was charged on Sept. 3 with conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism.

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