Military units provide show of force at GOP convention

After violent Labor Day protests in which 286 people were arrested near the Republican convention, law enforcement personnel made a dramatic show of force on Tuesday by deploying military units in more-visible locations around the Xcel Energy Center. A scheduled demonstration to raise awareness of poverty took place but drew no more than 500 people, far fewer than Monday's anti-war march.

"There may be less criminal action, but we do not expect there to be no criminal action," St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said at a press conference on Tuesday morning, emphasizing that the city was prepared to confront any new threats. He hailed the work of the police during Monday's clashes as well as the raids over the weekend for disrupting the plans of one anarchist group intent on derailing the convention.

Convention-goers and press members arriving at the convention on Tuesday morning were greeted by imposing lines of National Guardsmen at security checkpoints. "The demonstrators who were committing some of these violent acts were really taking a lot of energy and time from the cops," said Capt. Shannon Purvis of the Minnesota National Guard. "The National Guard was able to give them some relief. They needed a break."

Some 1,200 National Guard members from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Alaska are here this week to help provide security. The soldiers and airmen -- some of whom recently completed tours in Iraq -- received extra training in crowd control and dealing with protesters before the convention, Purvis said.

No National Guard members were in sight as marchers gathered in Mears Park on Tuesday afternoon, but bicycle cops lined the block and police on horseback and clad in riot gear waited in the wings. Members of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, which organized the march, were determined to make that show of force unnecessary, however, and made a point of separating themselves from the demonstrators who had caused trouble on Monday.

In a speech at the rally, Cheri Honkala, the group's national organizer, put any anarchists in the crowd on notice that they weren't welcome to turn an event intended to benefit the poor into an excuse for violence. "I don't care if you're dressed all in black," she yelled through a megaphone. "But if you put my baby in danger, you're going to be accountable to me."

Despite the group's entreaties, a scuffle broke out and a squad of mounted police officers quickly moved to take control. A standoff developed in which young protesters shouted insults at the police; officers maced several people -- including at least two who were wearing reflective vests reading "MN Peace Team" -- in the face. Three people were eventually arrested, and one young man fell to the ground in an apparent seizure.

The situation was finally defused by the start of the march, which set off about 6 p.m., nearly two hours later than scheduled. Although the marchers had a permit from the city, they made clear their intention to deviate from the approved route to go past the Ramsey County jail, where those arrested on Monday are being held, and to the gates of the Xcel Center. "We're operating in a nonviolent way, and we expect police to do the same," said Peter Cooper, a march organizer.

Despite the scattered confrontations, the day was notably calmer than Monday. As of press time, St. Paul police reported that they had arrested 10 people. Meanwhile, many of those booked on Monday on misdemeanor charges were bring released, some within an hour of being processed at the jail, according to Bruce Nestor, a local lawyer and president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Jessica Taylor contributed to this report.

For full coverage of the Republican National Convention, go to NationalJournal.com.

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