Mass Show of Peaceful Dissent Soon Makes Violent Descent
Bolstered by emergency help from the Minnesota National Guard,
police in St. Paul arrested 284 people Monday after outbreaks of
violence and road obstructions linked to rogue bands of demonstrators
among an otherwise peaceful throng estimated at 10,000 people.
The demonstrations, on a steamy first day of the Republican National
Convention, began with block after block of marchers -- far fewer than
the 50,000 some had predicted -- chanting and peacefully waving signs
on downtown St. Paul's narrow streets. As the day wore on, the carnival
atmosphere turned ugly.
Before most of the demonstrators had finished their march, a few
hundred protesters splintered off and became confrontational and
sometimes violent. Some smashed windows at Macy's and a downtown bank
building. Others challenged police by blocking roads.
Late Monday, authorities said 130 of the 284 people arrested may
face felony charges. Dozens were pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed. One
police officer was punched in the back and another suffered from heat
exhaustion. St. Paul emergency rooms reported nine minor injuries and
several heat-related cases.
Hundreds of police officers, sweltering in heavy riot gear, swept in
to block streets and protect delegate buses. About 3 p.m., St. Paul
police requested help from 150 National Guard troops.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said officers showed restraint as a
small number of law-breaking demonstrators marred an otherwise peaceful
day of free speech.
"Their efforts were nothing short of heroic," Coleman said. "They did not fail. They did not take the bait."
But observers from the National Lawyers Guild took issue with police action.
"We think it's unconscionable. We think it's out of control," said
Gina Berglund, an attorney and legal observer coordinator for the
guild's Minnesota chapter. "The response by the police was completely
out of proportion with what they were faced with."