9 arrested at Xcel in antiwar march

Nun arrested
Betty McKenzie, 78, in white, is arrested along with Jeanne Hynes, 72, outside the Landmark Center Sunday in St. Paul. McKenzie is a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph and was involved with a non-violent protest following a Veterans for Peace March.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Police in riot gear arrested two women in their 70s and seven others taking part in an antiwar march at the Republican National Convention on Sunday after they crossed a security fence into a restricted area near Xcel Energy Center.

The nine were arrested for trespassing, said Doug Holtz, a St. Paul police commander. All but one, who did not have identification, were released by police shortly after their arrest.

Eight of the protesters were handcuffed, and some flashed the peace sign to onlookers and media gathered at the security fence.

Veterans for peace
About 250 people marched in silence Sunday in downtown St. Paul to protest the war in Iraq.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

Betty McKenzie, a 78-year-old nun, was not handcuffed as she was led away. The protesters had planned ahead of time to cross the fence, and organizers had announced it ahead of the march, which drew about 250 people.

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"We are going to march into the arms of police. Whatever they are going to do is all right with us," organizer David Harris said to the marchers before they entered the restricted zone. He was one of those arrested.

"I believe it's time to stop this war," said Steve Clemens, 57, of Minneapolis, who also crossed the fence.

The arrests capped an otherwise peaceful march organized by Veterans for Peace and fellow peace group CodePink that began at the Capitol and made its way to the convention hall.

It was a quiet warm-up before a planned march Monday that was expected to attract a larger crowd; organizers of Monday's march have said they hope to have as many as 50,000 people.

Jeanne Hynes, 72, of St. Paul was arrested along with her friend McKenzie, a nun from the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Poor people's camp
Members of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign set up an encampment in a parking lot in St. Paul, after being evicted from Harriet Island Saturday by police. Officials from the group say they plan to sleep in the lot for the remainder of the RNC.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

"We both planned to do this if we could make it this far," said Hynes as she waited to be arrested at the end of the half-mile route. "We weren't sure if our backs would hold up."

As the march began, organizer David Harris read the names of soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq. After each name was read, the marchers near Harris shouted "We will remember you!"

Bringing up the rear of the march, about three dozen people wearing orange jump suits and black hoods over their heads marched in silence with their hands behind their backs.

Marchers carried banners that said, "Torture Destroys Us All," "S.O.S. Nation in Distress" and "Pro Peace Pro Soldier." Sixty-one combat boots were lined up on the Capitol lawn to represent Minnesota soldiers who died in Iraq.

"We want to make it very clear we are pro-soldier and anti-war," said Madea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink.

Korean War veteran Bill Starr, 73, was carrying an American flag and a tombstone with the name of a soldier killed in Iraq. He said he sees futility in war.

Raid in St. Paul
Police officers surround a house at 849-851 Iglehart St., in St. Paul Saturday afternoon, while waiting for a search warrant. The people inside claimed they were "media activists" who had video of previous police raids.
MPR Photo/Bob Collins

"I can lock up my house and scream about it or I can come here," said Starr, of Minneapolis, who marched with his 37-year-old daughter.

Harris has said the march wasn't directed specifically against Republicans, but against "warmakers." Harris said the group would be nonviolent, but that some civil disobedience was likely.

Ted Dooley, legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, said if there is any civil disobedience it would be peaceful and nonviolent.

It looked to be tamer than Monday's march, which could bring up to 50,000 people to the scene of the convention and is being organized by a coalition of peace groups.

"This is going to be a very broad, inclusive demonstration," Katrina Plotz, a member of the coalition, said of Monday's march. "We just really want to encourage people to come out."

Meanwhile, members of the RNC Welcoming Committee - which is not a sponsor of the Monday march but has been helping other protest groups coordinate - were trying to regroup after a series of raids Friday night and Saturday saw six people arrested and materials seized.

Police and sheriffs deputies at Landmark Center
More than 50 police and sheriffs deputies surrounded the Landmark Center when protestors from Veterans for Peace staged a demonstration Sunday.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Matt Bostrom said those arrested had plans to disrupt transportation in the area, damage property and injure others.

Some of what was seized included knives, axes, bomb-making materials and anti-war literature.

Bostrom said the arrests "were based on criminal behavior, not free speech."

"I saw some of the materials collected yesterday and those were not for noble purposes," he said.

It didn't appear likely that the six arrested will get out of jail in time to help organize protesters or participate in Monday's event. They aren't required to appear before a judge until noon on Wednesday, said their attorney Bruce Nestor.

Even so, Nestor said he was hopeful that a judge would review the cases against the six on Sunday and they could be released sooner than Wednesday. He said none of the six have any convictions other than misdemeanors and none have a history of violence.

Protesters march in orange jumpsuits
Protestors in orange jump suits represented victims of torture during the Iraq war. They were part of the Veterans for Peace march and demonstration in St. Paul Sunday.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

The arrested can legally be held for 36 hours, not including the weekend or the Labor Day holiday.

Nestor said it appears the police timed these arrests to keep the organizers out of commission during the protest.

One of those arrested was detained on Friday but set free and then arrested on Saturday, apparently in a move to keep him in jail until after the protest, Nestor said.

"It's pretty clear that the point is to get organizers out of the picture," said Andy Fahlstrom, spokesman for the RNC Welcoming Committee.

Fahlstrom says the police have no evidence the materials they confiscated can be linked to violence.

"I am not personally going to speak to the intent of any of the things that the police claim that they found," said Fahlstrom. "But I think that many of them are common household items. And others of them, while maybe they don't fit into the social norms of other people, are not a crime."

A protester crawls under a security fence
A protestor with Veterans for Peace was arrested after he crawled under a security fence surrounding the Lanmark Center Sunday.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

He said those arrested were in charge of various things, including finding housing for protesters and arranging food, and the arrests had adversely affected their organization.

Another group of protesters with the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign have moved to a vacant parking lot in St. Paul after police evicted them from Harriet Island late Friday.

About 125 people set up a tent city in the parking lot that they are calling "Bushville." The encampment is intended to highlight what they say are President Bush's failed economic policies.

Lead organizer Cheri Honkala says the group plans to sleep in the parking lot for the duration of the Republican National Convention.

"They've got to stop these random raids. They've got to stop putting people in jail and silencing reporters," said Honkala. "If we live in a democracy then every voice should be heard, and all of us should be really afraid that this is happening now."

Honkala says they were visited Sunday by officers from Homeland Security and the police department. So far, no arrests have been made.