Let me start off by saying, I’m not a particularly political person. I care, don’t get me wrong, but I just prefer to do what I do best, staying in the pretty bubble of art, music and what-have-you. I am an A+E Editor, after all, not a political commentator! I rarely watch TV, but when I do I often assume it’s an extra-violent news day, even though deep down I know that’s the way the world is, and I subsequently shut it out of my mind. It might be ignorant of me, but hell, my brain can only hold so much information, and the battle I’ve personally chosen is one of making sure you know exactly where to go to see the coolest art, music, and performance – and trust me, it’s not that easy of a job!
However, I do appreciate passionate people; people who are so into whatever they are doing that it basically takes over their life and becomes their identity. I think it’s impressive and endearing (and only once in a while, creepy). My decision to cover the scene in Downtown St. Paul was fairly innocent – I not only wanted to see a massive throng of people coming together to stand up for something they believed in, but I also wanted to see what they were wearing. Yes, it’s true. After watching the Liberty Parade this past weekend, I had a feeling plenty of sassy nut jobs in outrageous get-ups would be out in full force. I was definitely right, but what I didn’t really bank on was getting tear-gassed by the end of the night.
It was my definitely own fault for insisting on staying with the unruly masses when they came to a halt in front of Mickey’s Diner on West 7th, after a generally peaceful 4-mile march through the city to the foot of the RNC. I just couldn’t help it though. The photo ops were just too good.
After following the some 5,000 or so protesters up from the RNC gates to the street, I was at the tail end of things, having stuck behind to snap pics of some guy who looked like Jesus swaying in front of a line of cops with a miniature rainbow flag on a stick. The scene up at Mickey’s Diner was pretty ridiculous. About 150 cops in full riot gear flanked all sides of the street, trying to herd the protesters all in one direction. One cop sat perched on the top of Mickey’s, others stood on squad cars in bad-ass RoboCop poses.
While the majority of the march had shuffled off so as not to aggravate the cops, a core group of about 200 or so stayed behind and basically just stood there, chanting and talking smack to the lines of police. Honestly, I think both sides were looking for a fight of sorts. The cops were practically vibrating with excitement at the thought of getting to kick the crowd’s ass, and the protesters seemed to want them to do it, and were basically asking them to do it by not moving after the three warnings police gave, ordering everyone to disperse via bullhorn.
Dumb as I am, I stayed right up at the front of the police line somehow thinking they wouldn’t actually do it, I mean, no one was threatening them, maybe they would just pepper spray a few rowdy punks and everyone else would walk quickly away, virtually unscathed. Not so much. I heard a loud pop and saw billows of tear gas start rising up in the middle of the crowd. Numerous more pops and the streets were filled with screaming protesters running aimlessly as lines of police advanced on us. I turned tail and began booking up the street, veering away from the thick line of cops liberally dousing retreating protesters with huge arcs of pepper spray as flash grenades and tear gas canisters fell all around us. People were writhing on the ground crying and screaming for medics, and while everyone ran, the police seemed to be shooting things directly at our backs. A tear gas canister whizzed by about a foot away from me, bounced off an electrical box right into my line of retreat and started seething smoke. I jumped over it with my scarf covering my face and kept on running. At some point a boy that looked to be about 16 or 17 asked me to please help him and I just yelled at him to keep running and yanked at his sleeve, dragging him on. I saw a crying girl stumble too close to the police line, which was met by a douse of pepper spray that was so extreme that it literally splashed off her face, downing her instantly. Another young kid was balled up by the doorway to an office building, clawing at his eyes and bawling while other protesters screamed for someone to help him. I’d never seen such a thing. It was like a war zone, minus the actual killing of course. Eventually I ducked around a corner and got out of the fray, coughing and rubbing my eyes until I found a bus stop bench to sit down on, regroup, and let my panic meter go down.
I had lost my friends Stephen, Dylan and Paul, and upon calling them I found they were locked in a freezer at the Dominos Pizza place across from Mickey’s, where they had gone to get a bite to eat after the main protest dispersed. When the mayhem broke out, tear gas had apparently begun to seep in through the closed door of the place to the point that all the employees and customers had retreated to the freezer until the smoke cleared out. I think they got free pizza out of it, so that’s at least one positive.
After about an hour of trying to cross multiple police lines that had positioned themselves all around the area, I was finally reunited with my posse, who had been on the opposite side of the line. We were forced by the police to take the long way around to the Capitol and up to Paul’s car, which was parked on University. Along the way we passed by at least 500 cops in full riot gear, traveling in menacing packs all over downtown and at the Capitol. It was quite intimidating, and a little bit shocking, considering the sheer numbers. As the protesters had been chanting all night, "This is what a police state looks like!"
At any rate, you probably won’t be getting any more play-by-play coverage of police riots from me. I’m still jumping at loud noises, and have had enough of the smell of hippies and crust-punks to last me for quite awhile. Here’s my advice for future protesters: start running before they start shooting tear gas – it does not feel as awesome as you’d think!
Click HERE to see even more pics snapped by both myself and Stephen from the protest and our day Downtown. We don’t have anything from the actual confrontation, as we were busy running/ hiding in freezers. Strangely enough, videos of the melee taken by Kare 11, that were up on their website just last night, are now down; however, they do have some good still shots HERE.