- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | More than 400 protesters have been arrested for an array of activities at this year’s Republican National Convention, but it’s a safe bet that the total number of people detained will fall well short of the roughly 1,800 arrested at 2004’s party event in New York City.

“What the police were doing in 2004, they were arresting whole blocks of people,” said Michael Heaney, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Florida who has studied convention protests. “I think that it’s a different type of arrest strategy” in St. Paul.

As of Thursday evening, authorities in Minnesota had arrested 425 protesters from opposition activities related to the four-day convention. Police said 320 people were arrested in the city of St. Paul, where the convention was held at the Xcel Energy Center.

In addition, 102 people were arrested Wednesday night in Minneapolis after a Rage Against the Machine concert. Capt. Amelia Huff, a spokeswoman at the Joint Information Center (JIC) - a coordinated law enforcement hub set up during the convention - said the majority of those attending the concert “left fairly without incident.”

Those arrested sat down and blocked streets adjacent to the Target Center, where the concert was held.

“There was a smaller group of about 150 folks who wanted to occupy the streets,” Capt. Huff said. “We encouraged them to disperse. We asked them to disperse.”

Protest activities continued Thursday, as Sen. John McCain prepared to accept the Republican presidential nomination. A planned antiwar march turned into a sit-in after police blocked the protest route.

Hundreds of people tried to cross two different bridges leading from the state Capitol building to the Xcel Energy Center. But they were met by lines of police, in gas masks and riot gear, who blocked the bridges after the marchers’ permit expired.

Police began making arrests about two hours into the standoff as the crowd dwindled from about 1,000 to roughly 100. Two people were arrested before the march began.

“The important thing is even though we didn’t have a permit to march, people have decided they want to keep protesting despite all these riot police,” said Meredith Aby, a member of the Anti-War Committee.

The majority of the week’s arrests occurred Monday, when authorities said a group of anarchists splintered from a massive march to the convention center. More than 280 people were arrested after police said the group slashed tires and broke windows.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also blamed the violence this week on a small group of “anarchists, nihilists, and goofballs who want to break stuff and hurt people.”

Mr. Heaney, who studied and surveyed protesters in New York City in 2004, said anarchist groups like the committee make it difficult for other protesters not to be caught up in arrests.

But he said the show and use of force by law enforcement in St. Paul - where authorities have sprayed tear gas and pepper spray and lined streets in riot gear - has been excessive.

“On the one side, obviously these anarchist groups help to make peaceable assembly impossible,” Mr. Heaney said. “On the other side, the show of force by police is excessive in numerous ways.”

But JIC spokesman Tom Walsh said authorities’ approach - which has included roughly 3,700 police and law enforcement officers along with a National Guard unit - has focused on arresting only those committing crimes, and that it’s been successful.

“I would say that we are pleased with the way the plan has been carried out,” Mr. Walsh said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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