By Pioneer Press staff | Local police and Minnesota National Guard units are using a combination of pepper spray, concussion grenades and tear gas on a group of breakaway protesters gathered on Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul. The group of about 150 protesters, many thought to be with the group “Funk the War,” had been blocking traffic for much of the afternoon.
At least one person – a young man wearing a gas mask, no shirt and a backpack – was taken into custody. He lay down on the street as a group of officers surrounded him and took him away.
Police also escorted a group of 17 mostly black-clad youth across the Robert St. Bridge in an apparent effort to get them out of downtown.
Rubber bullets were fired into a crowd at Seventh and Robert Streets. At Seventh and Jackson, police have more than a dozen people in a parking lot as police handcuff them. Police continued to spray the crowd with pepper spray. More details are to come.
The confrontations continued after a main group of anti-war protesters marching from the state Capitol peacefully reached the Xcel Energy center in downtown St. Paul earlier today.
All day, breakaway groups of protesters roamed throughout downtown, blocking traffic and breaking windows. A group calling itself “Funk the War” temporarily blocked traffic across the Wabasha Street Bridge until mounted police moved them along. Three bus loads of reinforcements joined bicycle and mounted police, gathering at Kellogg and Wabasha, wearing gas masks.
Other reports of violent confrontations and damage to property that occurred before and during the march include:
The exit at Seventh Street off Interstate 94 was blocked by a group of about 10 protesters who chained themselves together with lockboxes. The protesters said they were part of the Pittsburgh branch of the Northeast Anarchist Network. “(The purpose) was to shut down the delegates from getting to the RNC,” one said. The police have officially shut down the exit.
There have been several reports of broken windows, including at 380 Jackson Street, where masked protesters smashed windows on the back side of Galtier Plaza; at Heimie’s Haberdashery, where a glass table was turned over and smashed at Sixth and St. Peter streets; at Macy’s at Seventh and Wabasha, and at the 1st National Bank Building at Fourth and Minnesota streets, where four large ground-floor windows were broken or smashed, apparently by rocks.
There was a Minneapolis police car at Sixth and Wabasha with the windshield bashed in and tires slashed.
Numerous people have been arrested, including: Eight at the corner of Sixth and Wall streets. One threw a paintball at a cop, and the windows of two police cars were broken. Twenty protesters are being arrested at 6th and Wall in Lowertown, St. Paul. The protesters, calling themselves nornc.org, are dressed all in black and wearing bandanas across their faces. They are chanting, “We love you,” and singing as 40 police officers, half in riot gear and half bicycle officers, stand guard as more officers search and handcuff group members.
There have been several reports of tires slashed, including on an SUV, on a coach bus near the Garden Hilton and on a FOX 9 TV truck. The driver of the FOX van chased the protesters on foot but didn’t catch them. Downtown resident Chrles Burmann, 53, watched the incident near Wabasha and Seventh street. “It brings back a lot of memories from the ’60s,” he said. “He just slashed these guys’ tires – it’s a little uncalled for.”
Before the march even began, police fired tear gas into a group of people wearing black clothing and bandanas over their faces. The group had blocked John Ireland by Kellogg and walked down the middle of the road to Twelfth Street, tipping a dumpster as they went. They pulled traffic signs down and threw them in front of police squad cars. Police in riot gear then fired the tear gas at St. Peter and Exchange at about 1:35 p.m.
One protester was asked: “Why are you doing this?”
“You’re writing about it, aren’t you?” he said.
As groups gathered in different areas of downtown St. Paul before the anti-war march began, there was a confrontation between police and a breakaway group of protesters at the intersection of Seventh and Minnesota streets in downtown St. Paul.
Police attempted to direct the crowd up Seventh Street, and protesters attempted to push through police barricades heading down Minnesota.
Shoving ensued, and police discharged a pepper-spray-like substance into the crowd, and held the intersection.
The crowd paused and played music and danced in front of cops, while those who were hit with pepper spray laid down on sidewalks and had their eyes flushed. At least one member of the press was also hit.
Police pushed the crowd up West Seventh armed in riot gear carrying sticks.
As a group of marchers passed the Dorothy Day Center near Seventh Street and Main, they formed a “pit” and began dancing in front of the Center.
When protesters arrived at the main protest area near the Dorothy Day Center, they were met with supporters of the war in Iraq, who carried “Victory Over Terrorism” signs.
The counter-protest was led by Joe Repya, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and RNC delegate who volunteered for active duty at age 58.
There were some verbal confrontations, but for the most part the mood of the crowd remained buoyant, dancing to music blasting from a portable speaker.
“They were throwing a lot of words at us,” Repya said. “Nothing I’d repeat in front of female company.”
Protesters wore a variety of garb, from colorful, almost clownish outfits to black bandanas over their faces. Cops wore gas masks and moved down Seventh Street on bikes and horses to push the crowd forward before the breakaway group separated into smaller groups and spread throughout downtown, often running.
Some protesters let out the air in government vehicles, and police seemed to allow them to roam.
Joe, a member of D.C. Students for a Democratic Society, was a part of the breakaway group, which seemed to be led by an impromptu dance and protest organization called “Funk the War.”
“They’ve disrupted the lives of so many people, Iraqis, New Orleaners, they didn’t help them. The least we could do is disrupt their day for a couple of hours,” said Joe, who declined to give his last name.
“The cops are being very aggressive,” he added. “Hopefully, they’ll let us keep practicing our free speech.”
Marcus Washington, a freelance videographer wearing a “Media” badge, said cops sprayed him with pepper spray twice at Seventh and Minnesota streets.
“I grabbed my press pass, a walked forward with my camera toward police just to film them and they maced me,” said Washington, shirtless and whose face was streaked with a liquid used to flush the pepper spray. “I got delerious and blind and fell over. … It’s still burning because I shaved my head and I have tattoos.”
On Seventh Street near Main, eleven local citizens, clad in bright yellow bibs, assembled themselves with a goal of preventing violence by inserting themselves between cops and protesters. They were mostly middle-aged adults and they talked with authorities to let them know their purpose. They wore armbands that say: “I will not hurt you.”
There was a report of tear gas being sprayed into the crowd at Seventh Street and Cedar.
At Eleventh Street and Minnesota, a group of 30 – 40 people, one of whom said they “are with a group of fellow citizens of America practicing Democracy,” wandered in front of cars driving on the street in what appeared to be an attempt to disrupt traffic. About 50 riot police followed the group as it continued to move toward the Capitol.
Reporters witnessed members of the group slash the tires of a FOX news van and let air out of the tires of government mini-vans.
The same group of about 100 people wearing black formed a blockade at Sixth and Cedar streets and overturned traffic routing signs and newspaper boxes and threw them across the road. Traffic is blocked on many downtown streets.
About 2,000 protesters waved peace sign flags and rallied at the state Capitol ahead of the march to the site of the Republican National Convention. Hundreds of police wearing bulletproof vests and carrying batons stood by.
The crowd was far short of the 50,000 that organizers had hoped to attract, but officers in riot gear were stationed along the route of the march to Xcel Energy Center. Police initially estimated the crowd at 10,000, but then revised it sharply downward an hour later.
An anarchist group known as the RNC Welcoming Committee had worked for months on strategies to disrupt the convention. Despite preemptive police searches over the weekend that resulted in six arrests, the group issued a statement Monday saying it was “moving forward with a national call to crash the convention.”
The group was not formally involved in Monday’s march, which was organized by a coalition of antiwar groups.
Police said they were prepared for anything.
“We will not tolerate lawlessness in the city of St. Paul,” St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said. “If you come here to throw rocks, if you come here to throw Molotov cocktails … we will stop you.”
At the rally, speaker after speaker called for an immediate end to the war and more spending on domestic needs, such as providing health care and fixing crumbling bridges.
At the capitol, a group of 200 or so college-age people holding a banner that read “Students for a Democratic Society” began walking the route before the set time of the march. Many wore bandanas around their faces, bracing for the possibility that police would use tear gas.
They soon stopped in front of a couple dozen counter-protesters who were holding signs that read “Victory over terrorism.” The students played the song “Like a Virgin” and performed the “Electric Slide” dance in front of the counter-protesters.
Immigrants, labor groups, veterans, student groups and others gathered for the rally, which was to walk about a mile and a half from the Capitol to the site of the convention and back.
At the rally, a 25-foot-long ice sculpture rose 3 feet in the air and spelled “Democracy.” Some protesters flew kites, waved American and peace-sign flags and carried homemade anti-war signs.
Peace activist Steve Clemens, 47, from Minneapolis said he was disturbed by the number of police.
“But we can’t control that,” said Clemens, who had already been arrested once _ for crossing into a restricted area during a march Sunday.
Alan Rybak, a real estate agent from Lakeville, Minn., stood along the protest route carrying a sign that read “Support Our Troops.”
“I’m here to support our troops and to tell (protesters) to get a job and go home,” said Rybak, a Republican Party activist.
Monday’s larger rally went ahead even as the GOP curtailed the day’s official activities because of Hurricane Gustav.
Police executed a series of raids in the days leading up to the march. One of the six arrested over the weekend on probable cause of conspiracy to commit a riot was released Sunday, according to attorney Bruce Nestor. No charges were filed against the woman, 23-year-old Monica Bicking. The other five remained jailed, possibly until Wednesday, Nestor said.
In the raids, police seized materials including knives, axes, bomb-making materials, maps and anti-war literature.
One man was briefly detained by police Monday morning after a smaller march by about 100 veterans opposed to the Iraq war. Wes Davey, 59, a retired first sergeant from St. Paul, said he was willing to be arrested for his cause. Police first said Davey had been arrested, but spokesman Pete Crum later said he wasn’t.