John McCain spoke of combating “threats to peace and liberty” as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination Sept. 4. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators braved waves of riot-police attacks to charge that U.S. imperialism is the greatest threat to peace and liberty facing the world.
Workers, students and other activists held the streets for three hours to demand an end to the racist war on Iraq. Meanwhile, riot police attacked them repeatedly with pepper spray, tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and wooden clubs.
Police infiltrators also attempted to lead the activists into dangerous situations. Ultimately, the police arrested almost 400 people: legal observers, independent and corporate media, medical workers, workers who were swept up in the raids and activists.
The Anti-War Committee organized the “No Peace for the War Makers” demonstration on the final day of the Republican National Convention. The group had planned to march peacefully from the State Capitol to the Xcel Center, where McCain was speaking, to protest the celebration of imperialist war.
Meredith Aby, a leader of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, explained: “The eyes of the world are on John McCain tonight. We felt it was imperative that his message of war did not go unchallenged. The police and the city of St. Paul decided to make downtown a Republican speech zone, but our demonstration challenged their decision.”
Cops violate demonstrators’ rights
Police ignored the right of the organizers to march from the beginning. The cops had refused to issue a permit to march for the requested time, even though permits had been issued for the same time and same march route for other days that week. Refusing to submit to unconstitutional police pressure, organizers determined to march regardless.
The permitted rally began with an inspiring performance by the band Junkyard Empire and speeches from youth leaders in FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) and Students for a Democratic Society, as well as representatives from the Troops Out Now Coalition, the ANSWER Coalition and the Colombia Action Network.
Chanting “McCain says 100 years, we say, ‘Out now’” and “End the occupation now,” marchers started down Cedar Street at 5 p.m. Lines of riot police blocked the marchers, who then turned up 12th Street and onto the John Ireland Blvd. Bridge, where the riot police again blocked them. About 50 people heading the march, including many leaders of the Anti-War Committee, were arrested when they refused to move until the police allowed the march to pass.
Still determined, marchers turned back to Cedar, pursued by riot police on horses. In a standoff that lasted another hour, protesters resisted rubber bullets and pepper spray, while dozens of others sat down and held the intersection of 12th and Cedar, the main access to two interstate highways from downtown St. Paul.
Riot police then encircled the marchers in groups so they could charge into the crowd and drag out dozens more leaders they had singled out for arrest. For instance, they shot Anti-War Committee organizer Mick Kelly at point-blank range with a rubber bullet as he held the lead banner in the center of the crowd.
Not only leaders were arrested, but also students from numerous local universities at their first protest, who were enraged that the war makers were celebrating attacks on the peoples of Iraq while their tuition bills and student loan interest rates keep rising. FIST activist and videographer Elena Everett documented police soaking a person in a wheelchair with pepper spray as he tried to escape mounted police.
At first the demonstrators focused on solidarity with the people of Iraq and the demand for troops home now. But after three hours of police attacks, many of the students and young workers began to connect the violence of the St. Paul police with that perpetrated daily against the people of Iraq and Palestine and with the daily police violence faced by immigrants and African Americans in the U.S.
Chanting “We all live in a racist police state, a racist police state” and “F—k the police,” the marchers eventually tried to escape the continual barrage of concussion grenades and tear gas. Riot police on horses and motorcycles followed, surrounding the demonstrators on the Marion Street Bridge over I-94, and unlawfully arrested some 300 remaining demonstrators.
The three-hour march had disrupted the war-makers’ celebration of imperialism and exposed the true nature of the police as protecting not people, but profit and empire.
Legal fightback planned
The Anti-War Committee, the Troops Out Now Coalition and other organizations plan to work together to fight back against the intense repression of the police through lawsuits and political pressure. The ACLU of Minnesota agreed to represent some of the more than 800 demonstrators unlawfully arrested. The National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights may also be involved.
In response to city residents’ outrage, members of the Minneapolis City Council have called for an independent commission to investigate the police department’s attacks on activists throughout the week.
The writer spoke at the opening rally on behalf of FIST and the Troops Out Now Coalition and was arrested on the Marion Street Bridge. He was charged with two misdemeanors: failure to obey a lawful order and participation in an unlawful assembly.
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