Wednesday, September 10, 2008

RNC Week in review

After what seemed like gallons of pepper spray, a year’s supply of smoke bombs, a whole chimneys worth of thrown bricks, and enough flash bang* grenades to make a deaf man's ears start ringing, the 2008 Republican National Convention is finally over.

It was most definitely an interesting week. Not only because there were anarchists roaming around looking for anything to break or drag into the streets, but also because I got to be in the front lines with other people interested in the common good of relaying the truth to the public.

The four days also came with personal stories that I won’t soon forget.

The first day started off civil compared to the last few hours of the same day. War vets rolling by with their son’s caskets, families gathered in front of the capital ready to march, protesters flying flags and waving homemade signs. It seemed tame. Tension was low and the only real news of the matter was the amount of people that had shown up.

Things changed as the day wore on. The sun was high and hot. The shaded areas around the mall of the state capitol started to fill up and the small cliques of protesters started to gather and plot. Soon, the anarchist and “Funk the War” groups had started the march without warning.

I had never been in a riot until the first day of the RNC. It’s amazing really. One moment it’s just a herd of people walking aimlessly down city streets, the next it’s a pepper spray filled maze with shrapnel flying every which way. The amazing part is that it started with just one person throwing something through a window.

After a couple hours roaming the streets of St. Paul every which way, being herded like cattle by cops acting as cowboys with pepper spray pistols, we had ended up in the middle of a small battle between the anarchist group and law enforcement. It felt like being in the middle of a game of dodge ball. One moment I was being pepper sprayed by a cop, the next I was being hit with a hard object thrown by a protester.

The protesters managed to drag countless newspaper stands, trashes and dumpsters into the streets to prevent squad cars from coming up behind them. Apparently, the makeshift roadblocks hadn’t stopped the police from catching up to the protesters. The cops were soon tailing slowly, sirens blazing. The protesters retaliated, smashing every window on one squad car and throwing cans, bottles, and anything they could find at the remaining cars.

This series of events went on throughout the day. During the larger march, the riot police had blocked off the planned route for the peaceful protesters. It took some searching, but we found that by using the sky ways we could enter the blocked off streets and reenter the march. This peaceful afternoon march, although large in numbers, was not as eventful as the protests lead by the anarchists earlier that day.

The day ended with Steve Maturen, the assistant photo editor at the Minnesota Daily, getting hosed with pepper spray to get a sweet centerpiece for the next day’s paper.

The next two days were different for me. Because of conflicts with class (I’m a University of Minnesota Journalism student) and editing duties at the paper, I wasn’t able to make it to the second day of the RNC. However, I heard there was some pretty crazy stuff that went down. I included a link toward the bottom of the page to read more about that. Wednesday was the least exciting. Sure Sara Palin spoke, but we had to use an AP photo because our spot inside the convention wasn’t decent.

Thursday, the fourth and final night of the RNC, was a day that we anticipated to be violent. As the march started, I could tell things between the police and protesters were tense. Rumors were flying around that anarchist groups were going to target the media and that the cops were going to be using whatever necessary force to shut down the march as quickly as possible.

The first intersection that the march had gotten to was immediately stopped by police in riot gear. The crowd chanted, “Let us march!” The cops weren’t about to let anyone into downtown St. Paul.

The march continued up a hill onto an overpass bridge leading to downtown. Law enforcement rushed to block off the bridge with horses. At one point, there were snow plows on the top of the hill. I’m not sure what the police were planning on doing with them, perhaps to intimidate?

Even after repeated warnings, the cops didn’t use force and waited for all the protesters to leave the bridge. Once the protesters knew they didn’t have a chance of getting across the bridge, they bolted for the next open thoroughfare near Cedar and 12th Streets.

Here, police gave three warnings, about five to ten minutes apart, telling protesters to “exit to the north” or be arrested. After more than fifteen minutes went by, riot police blocked off the intersection leaving and surrounded about sixty people in the middle to be arrested. They were instantly directed to sit down to be taken into custody one by one.

I had gotten lucky. I was in the middle. So as not to be confused with the protesters, I immediately approached an officer (the nicest looking one) and showed him my credentials. I, along with three or four other journalists, was able to stay on the median of the intersection.

From the median, we all got a clear picture of how the law enforcement handled unwilling protesters. With a knee on her neck while being zip-tied, one protester screamed out, “Don’t arrest me, arrest Bush!”

Many of the soon to be arrested protesters stuck with their chants, fists and peace signs raised in the air: “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off those riot suits!” Others just sat and cried, pale and ready to pass out.

After 45 minutes of cheering on their arrested comrades, the protesters were on the move again. This time, I had lost them for a while. When I heard a sudden explosion, I immediately ran to the source of the sound.

As people were running by I asked, “What happened? What’s going on?” No one had an answer.

The Sears parking lot, the source of the sound I had just heard, soon filled up with protesters and riot police. Flashbang grenades went off every few seconds.

As I was running toward the back of the Sears lot I witnessed a young lady being pepper sprayed, thrown to the ground, told to “stay the f--- down!” and then pepper sprayed again as the police man in riot gear walked away. The girl was helpless. Maybe 5’ 6”, 120 pounds, and after the first time maced she wasn’t going anywhere. A man turned to me after seeing exactly what I had seen and said, “Did you see that?” We both didn’t believe what we saw.

After that, riot police were everywhere.

I got a call from Steve Maturen: “I can’t see, I can’t see! F***! I can’t see!” He had gotten pepper sprayed.

I told him to stay where he was and to try to get help from someone around him. After the phone call abruptly ended, I was in panic mode and was running around frantically to find Steve. Two minutes later I called him back but I heard nothing but screaming.

Then I called him back again. again. again. No answer. I waited. Called again. No answer. Called again. No answer.

Finally, Karlee Weinmann, a reporter from the Minnesota Daily, informed me that someone called her and said that Steve had gotten arrested. Even though it seems like bad news, it was a relief to me. Steve was safe.

With some settlement in my mind, I went back to the Daily to upload and choose photos for the next day’s paper.

Soon after we had arrived back, Steve called and announced that he was fine and released. Tara Sloane, a staff photographer at the Daily, went to pick him up. After he got back, we chose some pictures and got the paper out for the next day.

Friday night was spent sleeping.

Thursday was also a night not soon to be forgotten because of Stephen Maturen. Read his story here: and view his pictures here: EARTHTONESSMM

*Flash. And then bang. Flash bang.

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