ST. PAUL, Minn. The bright white light of flash bombs can be seen everywhere among the scattering crowd. Loud explosions of concussion grenades mix with the lighter, metallic tinkling of tear gas canisters bouncing along the pavement. Lines of police dressed in full riot gear stretch beyond the sulfur-green clouds of smoke bombs. Shouts come from all directions in the darkness, suddenly lit up like a war zone.
"What are you doing? We're peaceful!" some people scream.
"Turn around! Go back!" police shout.
People are scattering now despite cries from some protesters to stay together. As they retreat, demonstrators bump into police lines blocking off escape routes. The police on horses, motorcycles and bicycles, in squad cars, even driving dump trucks with lowered snowplow blades attempt to herd the crowd.
"No more tear gas!" some people yell as they try to escape, their eyes red and watery as medics attempt to help amid the chaos. Others scream, "Where do you want us to go?" as officers plug them with mace.
Still others are getting angry. "Fuck you, pigs!" they shout in defiance, attempting to hold their ground, at times hurling projectiles at the police as the explosions continue.
Despite attempts by police to herd the crowd, people are running wild through the neighborhoods surrounding the Minnesota Capitol Building in St. Paul. They dart through parking lots and unblocked streets, trying to escape and hoping to regroup. Cars screech to a stop and bystanders are swept into the mass as they, too, attempt to sidestep the onslaught of police firing from all directions.
Beginning with nearly 1,000 people, this demonstration has been reduced to around 200. It started earlier as an antiwar rally on the Capitol lawn, the latest in a week of protests and civil disobedience, a citizen response to the Republican National Convention taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It is Sept. 4, which means John McCain would soon be inside, offering his version of the next four years of America.
By the end of the convention, more than 800 people, including journalists, street medics and legal observers, will have been arrested in RNC-related protests, many having experienced a similar use of force by police.
There had been showdowns between zealous police and protesters all week.
On Aug. 29, police raided the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist organization that says it was here to provide assistance to people who wanted to disrupt the convention through direct action and civil disobedience.
Police said the raid was the culmination of an undercover operation that began a year ago, in which officers claim to have heard discussions about plots to disrupt the convention. During that raid and subsequent raids of the homes of some local activists, police said they found caltrops for popping tires, buckets of urine to throw on police, and hand links for creating human barricades, among other items that could potentially be used to disrupt the convention.
The RNC Welcoming Committee refuted the police claims. "The raid was an effort to derail RNC protest organizing efforts and to intimidate and terrorize individuals and groups converging in the Twin Cities to exercise what are supposed to be their basic civil rights," said Tony Jones, a member of the group.
"We are not the terrorists," another spokesperson later said. "The terrorists are inside the Xcel Center."
Among some 10,000 protesters in St. Paul last week far more than the contingent that protested at the Democratic National Convention the week before was a strong contingent of self-proclaimed anarchists, whose direct-action style of protesting led to a near-continuous conflict with police.