ST. PAUL, MN. - Protesters attacked delegates, smashed windows, punctured car tires and threw bottles Monday, a violent counterpoint to an otherwise peaceful anti-war march at the Republican National Convention. Police wielding pepper spray arrested at least 163 people.
The trouble happened not far from the Xcel Energy Center convention site, and many of those involved in the more violent protest were clad in black and identified themselves to reporters as anarchists. They wrought havoc by damaging property and setting at least one fire. Most of the trouble was in pockets of a neighborhood near downtown, several blocks from where the convention was taking place.
But the main antiwar march was peaceful, police said, estimating about 10,000 people participated. Late Monday afternoon, long after the antiwar marchers had dispersed, police requested and got 150 Minnesota National Guard soldiers to help control splinter groups near downtown
Members of the Connecticut delegation said they were attacked by protesters when they got off their bus near the Xcel Center, KMSP-TV reported. Delegate Rob Simmons told the station that a group of protesters came toward his delegation and tried to rip the credentials off their necks and sprayed them with a toxic substance that burned their eyes and stained their clothes.
One 80-year-old member of the delegation had to be treated for injuries, and several other delegates had to rinse their eyes and clothing, the station reported.
Five people were arrested for lighting a trash bin on fire and pushing it into a police car, St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said. Authorities didn't have immediate details on the other arrests.
At least four journalists were among those detained, including Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke and Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, a nationally syndicated public radio and TV news program. Goodman was intervening on behalf of two producers for her program, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, when she was arrested, said Mike Burke, another producer.
Walsh said he had no immediate information on the four.
The antiwar march was organized by a group called the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, whose leaders said they hoped for a peaceful, family-friendly event. But police were on high alert after months of preparations by a self-described anarchist group called the RNC Welcoming Committee, which wasn't among the organizers of the march.
"Unfortunately today, a very small handful of individuals decided to break the law, damage property, and put people's safety at risk," Mayor Chris Coleman said.
About 180 protesters who weren't part of the march caused trouble, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said she expected her office to consider charges, including possible felonies, on Tuesday against those arrested. She said she couldn't speculate on how long they would be held before having a chance to post bail.
Protesters, many who were dressed all in black and covered their faces with bandanas or gas masks, broke windows, tipped over newspaper boxes, pulled trash bins into the street, threw bottles, bent rearview mirrors on a bus, flattened tires, and attempted to block intersections by joining hands.
Some protesters were seen lying on an interstate exit ramp to block traffic in downtown St. Paul and linking arms to block other roads.
At one point, people pushed a trash bin filled with trash and threw garbage in the streets and at cars. They also took down orange detour road signs. One of them used a screwdriver to puncture the back tire of a limousine waiting at an intersection and threw a wooden board at the vehicle, denting its side. Another hurled a glass bottle at a charter bus that had stopped at an intersection. The bottle smashed into pieces but didn't appear to damage the bus.
After the official march ended, police spent hours dispersing smaller groups of protesters, employing officers on horses, smoke bombs and pepper spray.
Protesters put eye drops in each other's eyes after police used chemical irritants such as pepper spray and tear gas. Some wore bandanas and masks to protect themselves.
Terry Butts, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice who is a convention delegate, was on a bus taking delegates to the arena when a brick through the window sprayed glass on him and two others. Butts said he wasn't hurt.
"It just left us a little shaken," he said. "It was sort of a frightening moment because it could have been a bomb or a Molotov cocktail."
Organizers of the antiwar march had hoped 50,000 people would turn out for the march. One of the largest rallies in the Twin Cities in recent history was a 2006 immigration rights protest in Minneapolis that drew about 35,000.