Over 10,000 people marched in St. Paul to protest the Republican agenda, yesterday. The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. Some media accounts are claiming that the protest "turned violent." That’s an exaggeration at best. The language invites the inference that there was widespread physical aggression by protesters, which simply wasn’t the case.
The vast majority of demonstrators were completely peaceful. Even the minority who broke the law mostly committed vandalism and civil disobedience, not physical violence.
Perhaps the best evidence of the non-violent nature of the demonstration was the ubiquity of rubbernecking Republicans. Everywhere I looked, I saw GOP convention-goers watching the action, often just feet away from the protesters and police. They were laughing and snapping pictures with their cellphones. It’s nice to see Republicans acting curious.
Tony outdoor cafes St. Peter Street went on serving as riot cops and mounted police herded demonstrators around in sight of the curious lunch crowd. One guy pushed his 5-year-old son in front of some advancing riot cops for a picture.
The bulk of the property damage is attributed to a group of about 60 self-proclaimed anarchists who split off from the march almost immediately. They set up a few makeshift newspaper box blockades, overturned several garbage cans, and a handful of windows. According to media reports, unnamed delegates claim to have been sprayed with a "toxic substance" by protesters who tried to rip off their credentials. According to some versions, it was the Connecticut delegations. Others say it was the Alabama delegation. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, I’ll keep you posted.
(Update: I spoke to Tom Walsh at the Joint Information Center, the information clearinghouse for police and public safety during the convention. He stated that some members of the Connecticut delegation were allegedly sprayed with an unidentified substance. Police won’t know what the substance was until the evidence is processed. In a separate incident, a protester allegedly threw something at the window of a bus carrying members the Alabama delegation. The window broke. No delegates or police officers were injured during the protests. Walsh couldn’t tell me how many acts of physical violence were reported yesterday, or how many people allegedly tried to hurt others. "It was a small percentage of the people who were protesting, if that’s what you’re asking," he said.)
Molly Preismeier of the Minnesota Independent followed the breakaway anarchist group all day. I estimate the total cost of the property damage will be measured in the low five figures, mostly broken glass. Your average Saint Patrick’s Day parade causes more damage and violence than the anarchists did yesterday.
Yet, if you look at the photographs of broken windows in the mainstream press, you’ll notice that they ten to be tightly framed shots of single broken panes. The framing invites the inference that the protesters did a lot of damage but the composition obscures the fact that the broken windows are part of an otherwise unscathed street.
When the media make the anarchists the centerpiece of their coverage, they’re exploiting the violent tactics they pretend to deplore. The press love sensational stories about depraved hippies and the anarchists love attention–it’s a symbiotic relationship.
The best way to deter political vandals is to keep their misdeeds in perspective. Dramatizing their petty exploits just encourages them.
Today the streets of St. Paul have been relatively quiet. The legal activists at ColdSnap have been busy monitoring conditions at the Ramsey County Jail and providing support for arrestees and their loved ones.
I’ve received scattered reports of arrests, illegal searches, and heavy police presence downtown, but no major incidents.