Police efforts to thwart large protests outside the Republican National Convention on Thursday night led to a clash less than a mile from the arena that resulted in “a couple of hundred” arrests, authorities said.
The confrontation capped four days of demonstrations here; in the previous three days, nearly 400 people were arrested.
Cmdr. Doug Holtz of the St. Paul Police Department said he thought “a couple of hundred” people had been arrested Thursday night, but the exact numbers wouldn’t be known until today. As of 10:30 p.m. local time, the Ramsey County jail reported that about 90 demonstrators had been booked on charges stemming from the protests.
The trouble began in the early evening after an afternoon demonstration. Several hundred people had rallied at the state Capitol, about a mile from the Xcel Energy Center, where Sen. John McCain would accept his party’s presidential nomination.
About 5 p.m., when their protest permit expired, they tried to march to the convention center. Apparently anticipating that move, authorities had blocked at least two of the bridges that demonstrators needed to cross with snowplows, gravel trucks and hundreds of police officers in riot gear.
Police repeatedly ordered demonstrators to get off the street. Many moved to the sidewalk and some dispersed, but a few dozen did not.
About two hours later, around 7:30 p.m., police began to arrest those who remained in the street. That seemed to energize the crowd, which began to move back toward the Capitol, witnesses said. Police followed.
Two groups of demonstrators merged at a line of police who were blocking another bridge over Interstate 94, which separated the area from downtown. Part of the group began to move down side streets, trailed by police.
Police fired the first tear gas canisters near a McDonald’s adjacent to the Capitol. It was unclear what triggered that action.
An estimated 150 to 200 people started running toward another bridge, farther away from the Xcel Energy Center, hoping to get across. Police pursued them on horseback, all-terrain vehicles and bicycles. A handful of people who ran toward the bridge were pepper-sprayed.
“The police confronted them,” said Steve Bristow, 58, who drove in from a suburb to watch the activity around the conventions. “They stopped them, and then they backed them into the corner.”
A leader of the group that organized the Capitol rally accused police of trying to provoke the protesters.
“The crowd didn’t know what to do after all the leaders of the demonstration were arrested,” said Meredith Aby, spokeswoman for the Anti-War Committee, a grass-roots organization based in the Twin Cities that advocates nonviolence. She had left and was not arrested.
“People were trying to find escape routes,” Aby said. “Police aggravated and made the situation worse by shooting tear gas into a crowd that was discussing dispersing on its own.”
Joseph Anderson, 22, was leaving a night class at a college across the street during the melee. He saw protesters running toward the bridge and police running after them. A police barricade was set up on the other side of the bridge, he said.
“It’s almost like they herded them like cattle, like the old cowboys used to do it. That was it for the people in the middle.”
Thursday was the last of four days of protests. Monday was the busiest day, when more than 280 were arrested after nearly 10,000 antiwar protesters had marched on the Capitol.
Tuesday was relatively quiet, as was Wednesday during the day. But late Wednesday evening, a disturbance broke out after a Rage Against the Machine concert in Minneapolis.
Police said 102 people were arrested there, mainly for unlawful assembly.