St. Paul arrests only a fraction of NYC in '04

Even by the loftiest of estimates, the crowds protesting the National Republican Convention here this week have been a tenth the size of the crowds at the 2004 convention in New York City.

But by Thursday afternoon, the number of arrests had swelled to nearly a quarter as many as in New York.

Protesters have complained all week that police have gone overboard in their attempts to quash potential violence and ensure the convention — being held at the Xcel Energy Center — proceeded without any interruptions.

"They most definitely created the police state they wanted," said Jeff Sear, 26, a St. Paul technician arrested Monday and charged with a misdemeanor.

Police began rounding up people before the convention started. On Saturday, eight members of a group called the "RNC Welcoming Committee" were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism. A warrant filed in their case stated they discussed kidnapping delegates.

On Thursday, the final day of the convention, protesters were stopped by police from marching to the Xcel center. Sgt. Bill Palmer of the Minneapolis Police Department said the march was stopped out of "safety concerns." Police arrested 30 people.

Tom Walsh, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department, said 3,700 local, state and federal police sought a balance between providing a safe environment for conventiongoers and peaceful protesters and halting small, roving bands of would-be rioters.

"To paint them all with the same brush and call them all protesters, I don't think serves those peaceful people well at all," Walsh said.

George Martin, a national co-chairman of United for Peace and Justice, said up to 50,000 people have demonstrated throughout the week. About 500,000 people marched through the streets of New York four years ago.

In New York, 1,800 people were arrested. By Thursday afternoon, 452 people had been arrested here. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said 71 people had been arrested for felonies. Her office filed formal felony charges against 21 of them.

Catherine Crump, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said those numbers show that police have simply been rounding people up — many of them who had done nothing wrong — to get them off the streets quickly.

Jess Sundin, who helped organize several marches this week, said the "excessive" police presence did not completely mute their variety of messages, including calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

"I don't think (Sen. John) McCain has come to St. Paul and gotten a free ride, and that's how it should be," Sundin said.