Peaceful Protest Marred by Small Band of Anarchists
By Holly Watt
ST. PAUL -- Police helicopters and multicolored kites flew over the state Capitol building here as thousands of protesters marched on the Republican convention, which opened this Labor Day afternoon.
The police estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 people joined the rally, which ended outside the Xcel Center and resulted in 56 arrests.
The antiwar demonstration was largely peaceful, but a small group of anarchists smashed windows and set a dumpster on fire en route.
"There was a splinter group that came here to cause trouble," said Tom Walsh, a public information officer for the St. Paul police.
The crowds gathered at the Capitol grounds in the morning, as speakers and dancers performed. As the protesters made their way towards the conference center, they waved homemade signs ranged from "Bush/McCain = McSame" to "GOP -- Government, Oh Please."
A group of Iraq war veterans pushed a coffin, covered in an American flag and army fatigues, in memory of Lieutenant Corporal Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The father of Army Specialist Juan M. Torres carried a photograph of his son, who died in Afghanistan.
Jose Rodriguez, a Vietnam war veteran from Houston, said he considered voting for Sen. John McCain, but could not after eight years of the Bush administration. "Iraq is an unjustified war. Kids are dying for nothing," he said. "We've got too many old people running things already."
Many families had come for a day out and were enjoying the carnival atmosphere. Suzannah Ciernia said she had come from Northfield, Minn., with her friend Cindy Robinson and was having a fun day. "We're a couple of moms for peace. My husband is over with the war veterans and my son is over with the students group."
Mike and Sue Starr traveled from Anoka, Minn., to protest against Vice President Dick Cheney's role in the war. "He is a five-time deferment and he is sending our son to war. Our son leaves in two weeks for eleven or twelve months," said Mike Starr.
The war in Iraq was not the only issue being highlighted. Activists championed same sex marriages, legalizing marijuana, an end to homelessness and better access to health care.
Maria Morales, from Racine, Wis., was coordinating Voces de la Frontera, a group that supports immigrant workers. "It's exciting, I hope something comes out of this," she said. "We need legalization of the 12 million."
Many waved Obama 08 signs and "I back Barack" T-shirts were on sale for $10 each.
James Murphy, from Plymouth, Minn., showed up in counterprotest, waving the sign, "Drill North Dakota." Other protesters waved signs supporting the troops, saying "United for a Strong America."
"I think they expected a lot more protesters," said Murphy. "The hurricane's taken the wind out of their sails."
There was a strong police presence along the march, with many officers in full riot gear.
Some complained of strong-arm police tactics throughout the holiday weekend. Doante Davis, 31, traveled up with a group from Louisville, Ken., and was staying at "Bushville," a camp set up outside the Asia Supermarket on Western Avenue. He said that police had tried to intimidate the protesters overnight.
"The police had nothing better to do," said Davis. "They made their dogs bark at us and flashed lights in our faces last night."
Police carried out a series of raids over the weekend, targeting locations where they believed groups were planning attacks on the convention. The RNC Welcoming Committee, a group describing itself as an "anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body" that planned to "crash the convention," was among the groups targeted.
Posted at 7:26 PM ET on Sep 1, 2008
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