Wow. Simply wow. What I witnessed tonight in the Capital city of St Paul was amazing. Bravo to the police force and their presence that kept the protesting crowd from entering the downtown area. I was able to make it down to the RNC area on the final evening. Myself and two local bloggers, Mitch of Minneapolis Photography and Snapshutter of TwinCitiesPhotos.com met around the time the protesters permit on the capital grounds was active. From my understanding, the permit to protest expired at 5:00. Their plan was to march to the Xcel Energy Center without a permit. The police force prohibited their march into the downtown area. Judging by the last three days, broken windows, vandalism, riots and more, who knows what would have happened on the final day of the Republican National Convention, it was a smart plan.
We watched a good portion of the evenings events good distance away from all of the action. We spent nearly three hours watching everything play out. When we first saw the group of protesters, we had heard they were sitting, blocking traffic on John Ireland Boulevard bridge that crosses Interstate 94. We found a parking ramp that was nearby and made our way up about six floors. We must have watched about 15 minutes before we realized that the protesters were not sitting on the bridge blocking traffic. Look closely at the photo below, I cropped it into a large panoramic photo so you can see it better. Take note of the right side of the bridge, lots of color in the clothing, now follow that along to the left side of the bridge. See the group of dark blue clothing? That my friends was the police not allowing the permitless protesters from marching beyond the bridge. This went on for 35-45 minutes when a car pulled up and the ramp security guards asked us to leave the ramp. After they checked our id's and made sure we were not taking photos for any protesting related group, they let us go.
For the first time I can recall, I saw snow plows in St Paul in the month of September. No, they were not clearing snow, but we had joking said that they were going to use the snow plows to clear the bridge of protesters. No, what they used them for was planting them at the ends of the bridges that lead into the downtown area and ultimately the Xcel Energy Center.
Once we had moved from the ramp, we made our way to one of the bridges that lead into the downtown area. Across Interstate 94, the police kept the protesters at bay. The number of officers had to be over 300 on the other side of the bridge. As the protesters moved from bridge to bridge, so too would the police. In the area we were at, the spectators watching and waiting for something to happen started to grow. Some of the protesters who had gotten there late or found away around started chanting from our side of the bridge. There was a bit of concern as some of the shouters started yelling for the crowd to approach the police from their backside. Within minutes of the yelling and scream, up pulls a city truck with barricades. Another vehicle pulls up and I realize it Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher giving orders and taking control of this side of the bridge. I was rather surprised to see the Sheriff right in the thick of things.
After a long, long, long wait for the starring contest to end between the police and the protesters, we decided to grab a bite to eat and rest our feet. One of the final photos I took in this area does show a few of the protesters taken into custody and sitting on the median on the bridge.
I'll finish up today's posting with a brief ending to the protesting night. Once we finished eating, we noticed all of the bridges had cleared. The police and protesters were nowhere to be found. Vanished, gone, poof. I was confused. What I have learned is, around 7:30-8:00, the police had enough and started using concussion grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd. That pushed the crowd back to the Sears parking lot [which was open for business at the time]. I'm not sure how they did it, but the only exit to the area was to cross over the Marion Street Bridge. Many of the protesters wanted to get out of there and crossed the bridge. They were met by a police blockade on the other side of the bridge. In the end, both sides of the bridge had a police blockade, thus trapping the protesters on the Marion Street Bridge. All of the protesters on the bridge were arrested. Wow....