Opinion: Outside the GOP convention, protests, violence and arrests

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ST. PAUL -- Here in the land of “Minnesota nice,” the specter of protesters flinging rocks at cops, and slapping or spitting on elderly delegates this week has many locals in this traditionally liberal town gritting their teeth and tossing their progressive views out the window.

“I’m a Democrat through and through, and I’m about as liberal as you can get,’ grumbled Alex Seasly, a construction worker who was grabbing a quick lunch down the road from the Ramsey County jail. ‘But I want to shove a hockey stick ...well, you know.”


He added: “It’s an embarrassment for the city. We don’t treat visitors like that, unless they’re on the ice.”

The jail is where bail hearings began Tuesday for more than 280 protesters arrested in Monday’s unexpectedly violent protests here at the Republican National Convention.

Nearly 10,000 anti-war protesters arrived at the steps of the Capitol building, eager to voice their complaints on everything from the White House to the economy, and tout the country’s need to embrace all things green and organic. (See arrest video below.)

But the fight had been brewing for days: local police raiding protester homes days earlier, in an effort to make a preemptive strike on potential violence; activists, claiming their rights were....

...violated, circulated videos online of terrified young people being handcuffed, and ordered to lie flat on the floor by police in SWAT-like uniforms.

Monday started out peacefully enough, a relief to many. But as the afternoon wore on, small groups peeled off from the main rally, and that’s when things started to go bad. Road flares were thrown into garbage dumpsters, and then the fiery receptacles were pushed into position to to block traffic.


Shop windows were busted. So were police car windows. Protesters threw rocks, bottles, even garbage at the thickening rows of police in riot gear.

One group cornered members of the Connecticut Republican delegation as they were walking to a security check-point to enter the Xcel Energy Center.

“They linked arms and tried to prevent us from going in,’ said Heath Fahle, the state party’s executive director. ‘They were pushing and shoving, and we were pushing back, just trying to get by.’

He added: “They were grabbing at purses, at credentials, spitting on the delegates.”

One protester wrestled with 83-year-old Fred Biebel andstole his credentials. Another spit on Lila Healy, the mother of the state’s GOP party chairman, and hit her in the face.

When former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who used to work for the CIA, stepped in front to protect her from the crowd, a bottle full of water and bleach was thrown in his face.

As the day progressed, the number of splinter protest groups grew -– and, say critics, so did the aggressiveness of law enforcement groups. Self-described medics from Portland and Illinois, in town to help with any injuries, were jailed.

Reporters from mainstream media outlets were detained or arrested, including a photographer with the


Associated Press and four University of Kentucky photojournalism students. Radio/TV host Amy Goodman from Democracy Now was cuffed and charged after she asked officers why they’d arrested two of her producers.

The troubles continue: Late Tuesday afternoon, at least 10 more people were arrested, and the clashes continued into the night. The court proceedings are moving slowly. There are 135 people facing felony charges.

Twenty-two people charged with misdemeanors refused to give their real names, and have been jailed in contempt of court. The paperwork is backlogged.

And some of the delegates may leave the Twin Cities having left an unlikely reminder of their time spent here in the heartland: a lawsuit.

“We’re waiting for the police to sort out who did what,” said Fahle. “Then we’ll figure out what we’ll do in the civil courts.”

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Top: A woman is taken into custody by police near the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) September 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images. Middle: Activists and counter-protesters protest in the streets outside the State Capitol near the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center September 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota.