It all went awry on the lawn of the Capitol. A group numbering somewhere around 1,000 was expecting to depart on the last sanctioned protest march of the week at 5:00, but members of the liaison group Minnesota Peace Team told organizers at the last minute that they would not be allowed to march after all. Police with tear gas at the ready began arriving at the scene. And then, with no announcement, a contingent of the protesters abruptly began marching south toward 12th Street, and practically everyone else in the crowd followed.
Police on bicycles and horses scrambled to head them off, first herding them westward on 12th Street. When the crowd reached the John Ireland Avenue bridge, it took a left to cross into downtown and was met by a phalanx of police on horseback blocking the south end of the bridge. These were quickly reinforced by a growing number of police in riot gear standing in a formation about eight rows deep. Before long, a path was cleared to let through a pair of buses trapped on the bridge by the sudden turn of events, and then both sides settled down to a roughly hour-long standoff.
What follows is a chronology of the events on the bridge and afterward.
5:12-5:20 As protesters and cops face off on the John Ireland Bridge, there is a palpable feeling—inaccurate, as it turns out—that this can only end in tear gas, billy clubs and mayhem. But neither side is willing to make the provocative first move to set the violent chain in motion, and the protesters even inject some much-needed comic relief into the proceedings. Their chant of “You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off that riot suit!” was reported here yesterday. But another great moment came earlier, when the protest leaders were first asking those assembled whether they wanted to sit down and hold their ground or disperse as had been instructed. A coterie of skater-punk types who looked to be kindred spirits to Black Flag or Rage Against the Machine instead started chanting, complete with funky hip-sway, “Sit down sit down!” to the “Get down get down” part of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.”
5:20 I’m mapping out my don’t-get-maced strategy for when the cops wade forward. Avoid proximity to protesters, and especially media, like Channel 5, who have donned gas masks. Head instead for the most imperially dressed media celebs. I stake out KARE 11’s Rick Kupchella, clad for a J Crew catalog in a sweater, the latest chic sunglasses, and designer jeans.
5:40 There’s an obvious discrepancy about the official timeframe of the protest. According to the people in the Mn Peace Team shirts, the cops believe the rally and march were sanctioned to start at 3 p.m. and be over by 5—that’s one reason they scattered those gathered on the capitol lawn just before 5. But during the standoff on the bridge, Cherrene Horazuk, a volunteer for the Antiwar Committee who has been leading the megaphone chants right at the front line, tells me, “We have always said we rally at 4 and march at 5. We talked to the cops about this when we were getting ready and the lead cop, [Sgt. John] Lazoya, said okay, then later denied he said that. They knew our plans all along. They knew our intentions.”
6:20-6:23 After a parallel scramble to the east, we’re all back at the bridge fronting the intersection of 12th and Cedar. The crowd is getting antsy to march, the chanting more fervent, the drumbeats louder. The protesters link arms and on command of the megaphone all take one step forward toward the line of cops on horses, now easily within arm’s length. I’m suddenly struck by the incredible cool and calm of the horses in the face of this noise and proximity. The protesters take another step, now almost nose to nose. The cops respond by signaling that they are going to move the horses forward. On signal, they do, one step, and the protesters move back to avoid being stepped on by these enormous animals. The cat-and-mouse game has become a fight for inches, and the Xcel is still more than a quarter-mile away.
6:24-6:30 Right in front of me, a slightly built male protester is suddenly shoved backward three or four steps with a horizontal thrust of the billy club by a riot-geared cop with the helmet #1292. “Get back!” he hollers angrily. It’s the kind of spark that can often set off the whole show and after a split second of surprise, the protester, who looks to be a teenager, says “What the fuck?!” and advances one step forward with the sort of faux menace that comes from someone who really doesn’t want to engage. Meanwhile, the two females on either side of him are telling him to calm down, not let the cops get to him, and the cop who shoved him has quelled his anger and gone back into stoic mode.
But not the cop with helmet #0577, who abruptly surges up from his position on the second line, raising his tear gas gun squarely at the head of the male protester, and screaming, “Shut the FUCK up and get back!” The cop is nearly quivering with rage and he’s got a weapon aimed. Everybody holds their breath, and then the cop abruptly steps back as the male and his two friends move away. For the next five minutes, the angry cop paces in the second line, glaring out at the crowd. Then he huddles with two other cops, and points out into the crowd, presumably pointing out the kid he had just chased away. There were a lot of good cops who wanted a peaceable assembly at yesterday’s protest. The asshole in helmet #0577 wasn’t one of them.
6:36 The cops order the crowd to disperse, saying they will be arrested. A couple dozen protesters, who sat down on 12th street a few minutes earlier, don’t budge. A small, initial volley of tear gas is fired, hastening the dispersal and creating a cacophony of coughing, as the horse-mounted police take up positions on all four sides of the intersection, isolating the seated protesters in the middle, who are being arrested. Chants of “Let them go! Let them go!” are suddenly redirected outside this enclosed box of cops, as two young males are hauled into the crowd by the lawn near the bridge and unceremoniously dumped. It turns out they are Jeff Shaw and Andy Mannix from City Pages, who had stayed with the seated protesters inside.
7:23 The standoff has lengthened into lethargy, and slowly but very surely, the ranks of the protesters are thinning. Someone comes on the megaphone and exhorts, “Don’t anybody leave! Show your support for our brothers and sisters who were arrested!” It is the first time, in nearly two and half hours since the march began, that the voice on the megaphone hasn’t been female.
7:33 Another brief dust-up, as the cops suddenly move into the crowd and arrest one of the protesters, perhaps on suspicion of some previous action. Nobody knows. The chant of “Let him go!” begins anew. A few minutes later, about half the remaining crowd, maybe 200-300 people, start moving away from the block.
7:56 Lots of action erupts simultaneously. A phalanx of police cars race down the streets in front of the Capitol; ditto groups of cops on horses and bikes. Rounds of tear gas and percussion grenades thunder from the directions of both I-94 and University Avenue. The parking lot by Sears is full of police officers, and plumes of tear gas and smoke from the grenades rises over University Avenue. By the time I arrive, protesters are scattering, variously pissed, crying, jogging, limping, wiping their eyes. They talk about the cops firing tear gas to disperse the crowd, and then the percussion grenades, right into the crowd. “One landed right beside me,” says Martin Goff. “The kids weren’t being aggressive at all. One picked up a piece of concrete but put it down when I told him to.”
8:20 A medic and some members of the Mn Peace Team surround a young protester writhing and screaming on the ground, clawing at his eyes. “We need someone to come and take this young man to a hospital,” says a Peace Team member into a phone. The protester is Misael Ivan Lopez, age 20, who grew up in East St. Paul and now lives in Uptown Minneapolis. In between gasps for air and rolling around waiting for his eyes to clear, he related what happened.
“I went to the wrong circle up there,” he said, motioning toward University Avenue, “and I got closed in. They weren’t trying to close me in, but it was just like how everything was happening. Everyone was riding around and I ended up being by myself with another guy on a bike in a fucking square full of guys who were like—they tackled me as I was trying to put myself on the ground. I was already face down when a guy threw my camera and pulled my stuff off me and turned my head [toward him] and sprayed me. They grabbed my face and sprayed me after I had already dropped down and fetal-ed.” A medic put another dose of water into his eyes. “I saw him coming so I hit the ground because I didn’t want to get hit—I fetal-ed,” he repeated. “They stretched me out and turned me so I was on my back and another guy pulled my goggles off and he sprayed me. My goggles were already tilted a little bit”—he pointed to a space between his eye and his left ear—“and the guy ripped them off the rest of the way and sprayed me. Aaargh!” he yelled, in pain and frustration, and flipped back on his side. Fetal-ed.
Here’s a slideshow of pictures taken before and during the events described here by MnIndy’s Steve Perry, who was there too. Martin Goff, who’s quoted above, is the last photo in the set. The chicken, incidentally, was not busted in conjunction with the march. The chicken was busted by a History Theatre security guard for hawking CDs to people waiting in line for the Daily Show taping.