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Welcome to St. Paul: police protect the Republican National Convention.

Photo: Chet Hardin

The Whole World’s Watching on YouTube

Police in St. Paul try to maintain order as thousands gather to protest the Republican National Convention

I dropped my glasses, I went back to get them,” said Marcus Washington, a filmmaker from Sex-Pol Studios. Washington approached the line of police officers after getting caught in a brief melee between the heavily armed cops and a group of radical, aggressive protesters. “They sprayed me. I showed them my press pass and they sprayed me.”

Washington was standing a little more than arm’s length from the line of officers when a cop began to scream at him and opened up a stream of pepper spray that hit him directly in the face. Washington crumpled backward in the shock and pain, falling onto the street. He only had a video camera in his hands and had made no movement that would have suggested that he intended to disobey the officers’ orders to respect the allowed protest route. He was just reaching for his glasses.

Washington was just one of many other reporters, photographers, videographers, and protesters who were attacked by the line of officers delineating the official protest route, from the Capitol of Minnesota to a penned-in area a quarter mile from the entrance of the Xcel Energy Center, home of the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Along the protest route, other victims of the officers’ attacks sat on the street or stumbled blindly, some being attended to by friends and fellow protesters who poured bottled water over their heads and into their eyes, trying to wash away the stinging spray. A photographer from the Associated Press, who was assaulted with the pepper spray, claimed to have shown his press pass to the officer immediately before being attacked.

“These are our streets. These fuckers can’t block our fucking streets!” screamed a young protester after a group of antiwar activists and anarchists clashed briefly with officers.

The protesters, who numbered anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 depending on which authority you asked, were mostly peaceful, protesting the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the draconian laws, such as the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, that the Bush administration ushered in during its war on terror. They had traveled from all across the nation; many came across the borders from Canada and Mexico.

Roughly 300 people were arrested on Monday, including Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman and two producers of the Pacifica Radio broadcast. Video of those arrests can be found on the Democracy Now! Web site as well as on YouTube.

In the footage of Goodman’s arrest, the veteran journalist is attempting to get information from police officers relating to the arrest of two members of her staff. The distraught Goodman is handled roughly by the officers before being handcuffed and forced onto a police van.

On Tuesday, reports of more clashes with the police surfaced. Ron Margetta, who is covering the protests with Congressional Quarterly, told Metroland that he was caught in a skirmish in which the officers shot canisters of chemicals into the crowd.

“The canister landed at my feet,” Margetta stated. “I had to run into a bank to avoid the gas.”

Although the authorities in St. Paul have made concerted attempts to organize the flow of protesters and to offer peace and security for the Republicans by closing off roughly a dozen blocks surrounding the convention center to the majority of foot and vehicle traffic, the convention has been marked by chaos and confusion.

Members of the Missouri delegation, desperate to find their way into the Xcel Center, instead got lost in the mayhem of the protesters Monday. They wandered through the crowd for nearly an hour before they were able to find the entrance to the secured area.

“This is crazy,” one delegate complained as she struggled through a crowd of masked teenagers. “I am in danger!”

—Chet Hardin

Chet Hardin is currently on assignment covering the Democratic and Republican na tional conventions. For more on his experiences, visit our blog at

What a Week

Oh, the Humanity!

In the face of the current state of the American health care system and the ongoing health care debate, Americans may have a hard time empathizing with the French, who are facing cuts to their national healthcare system. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has cut funding for half of the country’s 165 physiotherapists at the National Baths of Aix-Les-Bains. As a result, the physiotherapists have gone on strike. Sarkozy has begun to take on France’s state sector industries, which have regularly scared away attempted cuts by previous French leaders. In a recent speech, Sarkozy recently pointed out that there are 721 French diplomats in the former colony of Senegal, which only has a population of 12 million—while there are only 271 diplomats in India. “How is that normal?” Sarkozy asked.

Oil Zombies

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had a run in with protestors who were holding McCain signs and chanting “Drill here! Drill Now!” during the Democratic National Convention this week. The speaker paused and then responded, “Right here?” “Can we drill your brains?” Pelosi went on to call the protestors “the handmaidens of big oil” and the “two-cents-in-ten-years crowd,” referring to the amount she thinks off-shore drilling will reduce the price of gas.

The Day the Swinging Died

Capitol Region pundits and reporters lost one of their favorite subjects this week. A Slingerlands psychiatrist put in the winning bid to buy the Union Street Bed and Breakfast in Schenectady, effectively ending the run of the swinger hangout that features a sex dungeon in its basement. Owner Bob Alexson has said that he was not driven out but has chosen to move on. Alexson clearly did not consider what area columnists and anchors would be left to write about with his sexy B&B out of the picture.

For the Dogs

A Seattle woman who registered her dog to vote—a protest against the lax oversight of voter registration—had fraud charges dropped against her this week. The judge dismissed the case, sighting that the woman had already paid over $200 in court costs. The woman did not try to hide the fact that her dog was registered, and she pointed out that the dog never actually voted.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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