ST. PAUL -- Three eyewitnesses -- two people involved in the march and one member of the Department of Corrections -- described yet another police-protester confrontation in downtown St. Paul Tuesday evening.
Although no one with whom I spoke reported any violence, roads were blocked to pedestrians and car traffic for the better part of two hours while police sought to disperse a crowd of several hundred with tear gas.
The confrontation did not appear to be planned. Instead, about 1000 people were attending a free concert near the capitol when police intervened and told surprise act Rage Against the Machine it would not be allowed to perform. After a conversation with police, lead singer Zack de la Rocha reportedly took a bullhorn and, singing, apparently led the audience out of the park.
The concert-goers intersected with the Poor Man's March, an authorized, peaceful protest of several thousand making its way toward the Xcel Energy Center, where Republican delegates and speakers were gathered. Now larger, the march stopped in front of the fence surrounding the Xcel Center. A woman who appeared to be one of the march leaders asked the police officers at the fence to let them in; the officers said no. The crowd began to disperse.
Here my sources diverge. One of the erstwhile concert goers, Tumbleweed, said he believed that people were leaving; the Department of Corrections representative said several hundred people were milling around an intersection blocking traffic. Both agree that the police captain turned on his bullhorn and told the crowd their assembly was unlawful, and that they would have to go.
The announcement seemed to provoke some of the remaining marchers--"anarchist kids and everybody," said Tumbleweed--to stay. While the captain repeated the announcement "at least five times" according the Corrections Officer, about two dozen marchers chanted, some waved signs, and others just waited to see what would happen.
The riot police loaded their cartridges and slipped on their masks. Eventually, they fired tear gas "in both directions" according to Tumbleweed, and it the remaining marchers appeared to run off -- many hollering, and a few goose stepping.
Riot police continued to barricade the roads for over an hour, and residents, displaced marchers, and grumpy citizen journalists waited at the intersection while the sky turned dark, the temperature dropped, and the mood turned increasingly ugly.