More Than 300 Arrested Thursday Night in St. Paul

Posted September 5, 2008 at 10:27am

Police arrested more than 300 people Thursday night near the Minnesota Capitol, bringing the total arrests in St. Paul this week to 818.

Most were charged with unlawful assembly after the Anti-War Committee staged a rally and march at about 5 p.m. without a city permit. Hundreds of protesters showed up.

Within 10 minutes, more than 100 police in riot gear — on foot as well as riding horses, bicycles and motorcycles — stopped the crowd on John Ireland Boulevard, near Rice Street. They used snowplows to further block passage on a bridge.

Over the next several hours, the crowd tried several avenues to march to the Xcel Energy Center, where the Republican National Convention was held and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) accepted the party’s presidential nomination Thursday night. Police blocked them all, never letting the protesters get past Interstate 94.

Police finally arrested more than 300 people on Marion Street Bridge, hours after the protest began and right before McCain’s speech.

No violence took place at the protest, said Pete Crum, a spokesman for the St. Paul Joint Information Center. And most of those arrested were cited and then released at different drop-off points around the city.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota have criticized the mass arrests this week, pointing out that city and county attorneys have dismissed most of the charges for lack of evidence.

But police officials said throughout the week that they encourage peaceful protests and are primarily concerned with violent anarchists — some of whom broke windows, slashed tires and assaulted delegates and visitors Monday.

When asked Thursday morning about how police would handle that night’s protest, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said the department would try to accommodate peaceful gatherings.

“The plan is really about being at the ready,” he said, “not about being in crisis mode.”