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(en) US, Tween Cities, No RNC, Media, Tactics similar as cops, protesters dueled in streets

Date Sat, 06 Sep 2008 17:51:24 +0300

Both the people who said they wanted to disrupt the Republican National
Convention in St. Paul and the police who tried to stop them were well-organized
and had military-like strategies from the start, with police strategies evolving
as the week went on. ---- Just as top police brass met each morning to discuss
new intelligence and their plans for the day, so did anarchist groups, St. Paul
Police Chief John Harrington said Friday. ---- The two sets of strategies played
out during the four-day gathering, resulting in 818 RNC-related arrests and
groups decrying the police actions as overly aggressive and limiting free
speech. Police have said they acted properly.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union's Minnesota chapter and Amnesty
International issued statements criticizing law enforcement tactics, which
included arrests of journalists covering the action.

"People were arrested and brutalized for standing on bridges and chanting," said
Meredith Aby, an organizer for the Anti-War Committee, which helped organize
Monday and Thursday marches on the Xcel Energy Center convention site.

Protesters said numerous lawsuits against the city and law enforcement are likely.

Also Friday, representatives of several local and smaller national media
organizations delivered a stack of petitions to St. Paul and Ramsey County
officials demanding that charges be dropped, or never brought, against
journalists covering the RNC protests.

"We recognize that media folks ...
are there doing the job," Harrington said Friday. But he also said police had
told journalists that when officers declare there's an unlawful assembly, "the
media isn't exempt from (a) legal order."

Harrington said a policy decision would have to be made about journalists who
"were simply caught up in the middle."

Now that the convention is over, police will complete an "after-action report"
that will look at what worked well and what didn't.

Here are the tactics used by both sides, based on observations by Pioneer Press
reporters during numerous confrontations, as well as interviews with law
enforcement officials and the most aggressive protesters who opposed the RNC:


Actions: The self-styled anarchist groups planned to use a strategy of "swarm,
seize and stay" to stop the Republican delegates from holding their
Monday-through-Thursday convention. They divided downtown into seven sectors,
asking anarchist groups arriving from around the country to adopt them.

On Monday, groups arrived en masse in an area, seemingly out of nowhere, to
claim an intersection or strip of roadway, and then held it until pushed back by
police officers in riot gear.

Roadblocks: As protesters arrived in an area or fled police Monday, some
anarchists built roadblocks out of objects at hand — newspaper boxes, trash
bins, bike racks and unsecured street signs — to slow pursuing officers. In one
instance Monday, a group of them rolled a large trash bin toward an advancing
squad car.

Offensive equipment: Officials have said anarchists planned to use urine to
douse officers and marbles to trip them up. The tools seen on the streets by
reporters included caltrops (nail-like devices) to pop delegate bus tires and
ball-peen hammers to break windows.

Some delegates also reported protesters doused them Monday with a
water-and-bleach solution outside the Xcel Energy Center. Others were spat on.

Defensive equipment: Some protesters carried gas masks, goggles or
vinegar-soaked bandanas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.

Those hit with chemical irritants used water or a 50/50 mix of water and liquid
antacid to wash out their eyes and clean their skin. Their own crew of " street
medics" was always close to the action.

Anonymity: On Monday, protesters fled police and stopped to shed layers of
clothing — likely to keep them from being identified by their outfits, or to
remove articles stained by police paintballs.

Anarchists also wore similar outfits — black shirt and pants, dark bandana over
the face and attorney phone numbers written on their arms. The uniformity was
supposed to make it harder for law enforcement to single out an individual.

Communication: Protesters and their supporters largely organized their efforts
via the Internet. Twitter, an online service for mass-broadcasting in the form
of short text snippets, was particularly important.

They used shared Twitter accounts to post frantic updates from the field. This
allowed everyone involved to know what was happening and attempt to coordinate
by using cell phones and other hand-held devices.

Counterintelligence: Protest groups, specifically the RNC Welcoming Committee,
said they were constantly vigilant about infiltrators. The reason was clear: The
house raids by the Ramsey County sheriff's office last weekend were predicated
on information from an undercover investigator and two informants.

The group first used its close-knit nature to keep out strangers, and then fell
back to surveillance and profiling to keep out the rest.

On Tuesday, at a Mears Park rally, anarchists outed three people dressed like
them who then drove off in a vehicle registered to the Hennepin County sheriff's
office detectives division.


Numbers: Police wanted to keep the anarchists from spawning chaos in the Twin

With more than 3,700 officers on hand for the convention, police might not have
been able to outnumber peaceful marchers.

But they didn't have to.

Violent protesters were often in groups of a dozen or so, even within a larger
group of peaceful demonstrators. As swarms of officers in riot gear zoomed into
an area, peaceful demonstrators often backed off. It was apparent that officers
far outnumbered those who wished to stand their ground.

Communications: All the cops in the world are worthless if they're one step
behind the action, so instant and accurate communications was a linchpin of law
enforcement's tactics.

Inside fairly cramped and stuffy quarters in what is normally a training room of
the Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center near the county jail, a crew
of about 30 directed the largest police force ever assembled in the state. St.
Paul Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom described it as "lean and mean,"
consistent with his general strategy of securing everything outside the Xcel Center.

Practice sessions last weekend showed that traditional law enforcement command
structure was too cumbersome; directives often got distorted as they passed from
one person to another. So officials went with a NASA Mission Control-style
arrangement: one man, Senior Cmdr. Joe Neuberger, essentially dispatched
everyone for the east metro, including St. Paul.

The room was equipped with TV screens showing live video from street cameras. An
overhead electronic map of downtown updated automatically as dispatchers typed
in information on where units were and where they were going.

It was still too slow. Neuberger said that Monday, when chaos broke out in
several areas downtown, dispatchers "upgraded to whiteboard 3.0" on the fly. A
felt marker-drawn map of the city was updated by one dispatcher who slid around
pieces of cardboard representing various forces.

"It's not high-tech," said Neuberger. "That's the way they did it in World War
II." It worked so well, they stuck with it throughout the week.

Mobile field force officers: Police mobile field forces moved around downtown
St. Paul in unmarked minivans throughout the convention. They traveled in
caravans, with four minivans in a platoon and three to four officers inside each
one. A marked squad car led each platoon.

Mobile field force officers wore riot gear and stood at the front lines. The
body armor and helmets with shields weren't for intimidation, but for officers'
protection, police said.

Although mobile field force officers were in the most intense action, there was
also a lot of sitting around and waiting, or monitoring of situations.

Discipline: It was rare to see officers break formation from a police line and
pursue suspects, even those who threw objects at police or vandalized property.
That's because it often didn't work. In one instance Monday, militant
demonstrators quickly overwhelmed an officer. He backed off and they scattered.

On Thursday, in a chaotic scuffle in the Sears parking lot, individual officers
broke away and chased individual protesters.

Divide and conquer: Throughout the week, lines of advancing officers — yelling
"Move! Move!" — forced demonstrators who assembled in streets without permits to
move from areas closest to the Xcel. Sometimes, the police were on horseback.
Bicycle officers also used their bikes, held out in front of them as shields, to
reinforce lines.

Advancing lines of police often took advantage of moments when gaps formed
within a large group of two dozen demonstrators, creating new lines between
them. Then they drove the groups in opposite directions. They parked heavy
equipment, such as snowplows, at key intersections.

For example, on Monday, police drove a group massing at Kellogg Boulevard and
Wabasha Street up Wabasha and split the group, eventually forcing one to Seventh
and Jackson streets, and the other across the Robert Street Bridge.

Adaptation: On Monday, police chased people who were shattering windows,
throwing rocks, slashing tires and blocking traffic and arrested nearly 300
people. But police discovered the protesters "liked having us chase them around"
and "that wasn't terribly effective for us," Harrington said.

So, when police had information Thursday that protesters wanted to "use arson to
disrupt the convention, to take out parts of downtown St. Paul," officers kept
them from getting close enough to try, Harrington said.

Less-lethal weapons and buffers: When a police line advanced on a group, it was
slow and deliberate. In cases where police gave a warning, anyone who didn't
retreat at least 10 feet from the line often became the target of pepper spray.

Police effectively increased this buffer zone by deploying tear gas, shooting
pepper-spray projectiles, and lobbing smoke grenades and flash-bangs.

Officials steadfastly denied shooting rubber bullets, and the Pioneer Press was
unable to verify alternative media reports and demonstrator claims that they had
been used.

With gusty winds on some days, tear gas occasionally caused burning nostrils and
eyes, and irritated skin for bystanders a block away. Pioneer Press reporters
also witnessed anarchists cheering and taunting police when officers announced a
"final warning" that they were about to use their less-lethal weapons.

Jason Hoppin, Frederick Melo, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Tad Vezner and Michael Marchio
contributed to this report.


Editor's note: Among the group of media representatives delivering petitions to
St. Paul and Ramsey County officials Friday was Mike Bucsko, executive director
of the Newspaper Guild of the Twin Cities. The union represents journalists at
the Pioneer Press, including photographer/videographer Ben Garvin, who was
arrested Thursday evening and cited with a misdemeanor for unlawful assembly.

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