The Night in St. Paul

Tonight I retrieved my video camera, which provides some feel for what was going on in St. Paul last night.

It took seeking the help of an attorney, Robert Speeter, to retrieve the camera and my laptop, and he ultimately had to tap the St. Paul city attorney who in turn had to press the city’s chief of police for its release. Otherwise, I was told that I would have to wait until Monday.

Sany0077 A recap of all of this, via video and snapshots: On Thursday, the first place I went to cover was a standoff at St. Anthony Ave. and the John Ireland bridge, near the grounds of the state Capitol, where police in riot gear formed a line to prevent anti-war demonstrators from crossing and getting any closer to the Xcel Center. By the time I got there, the crowd was dwindling, but some lone demonstrators were standing a couple yards face to face with police. They chanted, “You’re sexy. You’re cute. Take off the riot suits.”

I couldn’t help but think that this was a form of street theater, and even more so when an apparent counter-protester, a mohawked man, practically growled at the crowd, and even chased after one man. Bizarrely, he then stood face to face with a masked protester, as if they were going to trade blows. Instead, they started mimicking each other as if in a mirror, like that old Harpo and Groucho Marx skit. Sany0082 The man in the mohawk would raise his arms up, the man in the mask would do the same.

Suddenly, a ring of police lunged forward, grabbed the man in the mohawk and arrested him. The crowd of demonstrators cheered, and an officer told them, “Thank you for your cooperation.”

After that, it looked as if the demonstrations would disburse. Yet a new group of some 250 protesters came south bound on John Ireland Boulevard, reawakening the protest.

They marched down St. Anthony Ave. and then headed north of Marion Street, blocking traffic as patrol cars followed at one point, which I took as meaning that the police were simply resigned to following the group around for a while as a kind of escort. The protest included their own medics and florescent suited guides, and, after one protester threw a plastic bottle at a patrol car, several in the group shouted for “no violence.”

One marcher carried a American flag and tried to get in the lead.

By the time that the march turned the corner again, eastbound on Aurora University Ave., officers in riot gear formed a line across the street to stop them. It was then that the melee started, with officers throwing smoke bombs and flash grenades, and some stopping to fire plastic bullets.

Most of the demonstrators started heading back from where they came, and headed south on Marion Street. It was here that a flash bomb struck just at my feet, to which I shouted, along with other reporters, “Media!” What I did not hear — either in the confusion or because my ears were ringing temporarily from the explosive — was an officer who told the crowd, “This is the police department. The main method of leaving is south bound. Those who do not leave here are subject to arrest.”

But I was walking and heading south bound anyway, along with other media and most of the other protesters, looking for an exit. (Alice Kalthoff, a producer for Fox TV, also was detained and blogs about it here.) But there was none, as the police had surrounded all of us on Marion Street Bridge, where we were told that we were being arrested.  In all, some 300 were taken into custody.

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