250 protesters arrested, including Amy Goodman
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL - Police used pepper spray and tear gas to quell breakaway demonstrators from an otherwise peaceful anti-war demonstration Monday outside the Republican National Convention, after the splinter groups smashed department store and police car windows.
More than 250 people were arrested - including Amy Goodman, host of the nationally broadcast television and radio program "Democracy Now"- as police clashed with roaming groups of protesters. Goodman was later released, and she was among those cited for various misdemeanors.
More than 2,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, many in full riot gear, lined the parade route to keep the estimated 10,000 marchers from straying from their permitted march. Later in the day, police motorcycles escorted buses carrying convention delegates to and from the Xcel Energy Center, as police shut down large sections of downtown.
Earlier Monday, several groups of demonstrators - many who identified themselves as anarchists and covered their faces with bandanas - broke from the main march. They set a fire in a garbage Dumpster, damaged five police squad cars and smashed three giant display windows at a Macy's department store, police said. Store spokeswoman Jennifer McNamara said the store will increase security for the rest of the week in response to the vandalism.
Activists and civil rights organizations had criticized police for a series of pre-emptive raids on Friday and Saturday on the homes of suspected demonstration organizers and at the meeting place for the "RNC Welcoming Committee," an umbrella organization of dozens of activist groups and individuals from around the country. It has been planning convention demonstrations for over a year.
Police seized several laptop computers, digital cameras, schedules and 7,000 "welcoming guides" organizers planned to distribute to people coming to the Twin Cities for demonstrations. They also seized several gallons of urine and various tools activists use to link themselves together during protests.
"It wasn't chilling enough," said St. Paul Police Department spokesman Tom Walsh. "We had probable cause. We had obtained information in advance that some of these groups, maybe 10 or 12 of them, were planning to cause disruption and destruction. For us not to act on that would have been irresponsible.
"It made today less violent because of the action we took," Walsh said.
Asked whether law enforcement used undercover infiltrators to obtain information on the suspected demonstrators, Walsh said "that's an irresponsible question" and declined to answer.
"Certainly there were troublemakers (Monday), and they deserved to be arrested," said Teresa Nelson, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota. "But we're very troubled that the police were using heavy-handed tactics. We heard reports from people who were listening to music in the park and who were surrounded and detained."
Nelson's organization will be in court today to try to regain some of the material seized in the raids. "That is constitutionally protected material," she said.
The vast majority of the participants in Monday's demonstration were peaceful. They filled the lawn outside the Minnesota state capitol building and listened to speeches at an 11 a.m. rally before marching roughly 20 blocks to the Xcel Center. In addition to the smattering of Socialists and supporters of a variety of left-wing causes, the majority of participants were local families and college students spending their Labor Day holiday protesting the GOP and the Iraq war.
"I'm here to be a part of history," said Marisha Weihe, a 38-year-old restaurant manager who rallied with her mother and 7- and 16-year-old sons. "It's good to be out here with people who feel the same way. Yeah, you can send e-mails to each other, but it feels good to physically be present."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.