Not a Protester? Thou Doth Protest Too Much

Jermiah Warwick and Jeff Ollanketo
Police detain and Jeremiah Warwick and Jeff Ollanketo Tuesday on Cedar St. in St. Paul. Warwick and Ollanketo believe their clothes and tattoos made them targets of suspicion.
MPR Photo/Paul Tosto

Life has been a hassle for many in St. Paul who are neither part of the convention nor protesting it.

Here and there, citizens who took a wrong turn, got too close to the action or maybe just looked out of place, found themselves in a Springsteen song:

The Wild, the Innocent and the St. Paul Shuffle.

Jeremiah Warwick and Jeff Ollanketo were walking down Cedar Street Tuesday afternoon hoping to check out the Republican National Convention spectacle when they became a small part of it.

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They were stopped after officers saw a woman give the pair a "look" that suggested trouble, Warwick, 22, said. Police frisked them and a third friend, although the woman said the men didn't do anything wrong, Warwick added. The conversation with police lightened after the men mentioned their military backgrounds.

Minutes later they were on their way. Ollenkato, 24, concluded their tattoos and piercings made them targets in a week when other nonconformists were smashing windows and tipping dumpsters.

That was true Monday afternoon on Shepard Road by the Mississippi River, just below the Wabasha Bridge. About 100 anti-war protesters wound their way down to the river from the St. Paul Cathedral. As they walked toward Jackson Street -- a road into downtown -- they were joined by people heading to a concert.

The scene turned chaotic after some protesters carrying a large sign tried to cross Shepard Road toward a police line across Jackson Street. Police drove the protesters back across Shepard Road with tear gas and then pushed them up the street toward the Science Museum as protesters and others ran past cars and stopped traffic.

Police then hemmed in the group in a green space next to the river and announced they were all under arrest.

The crowd included Jeremy Nelson, who said he was just trying to get across the river to the Harriet Island concert when he got caught in the circle of 100 people. While some of that group were arrested, bunches of people, including Nelson, were allowed to walk away.

Police told him "they were trying to sort out the troublemakers," said Nelson, 31. "I was trying to go to the concert. Next thing I knew there were riot police on both sides."

Eric Vange, 22, of Lakeville, said he and a friend were riding their bikes back from that concert to his car at Dayton Avenue and Virginia Street. He popped the trunk to deposit his bike, and was surrounded by St. Paul police. The officers said they would be detained for questioning, Vange said.

"My friend was quickly taken to one of the squad cars, and I to a different car, where I was searched thoroughly and thrown in the back of the car," Vange said.

"They mentioned something about how I was suspect in some thousands of dollars of damage done at Macy's, as they barraged me with questions and searched my car."

Police, he said, soon realized that we weren't the vandals and were let go but some of his CDs were broken.

"I understand full well why this level of security is necessary," Vange said.

"The reason why Downtown St. Paul is under military control is because clearly it does take that level of security to protect some of the people attending the RNC."

John Morson of Minneapolis was on the Robert Street bridge over Shepard Road. He wasn't protesting or going to the concert, just meeting his girlfriend in the area. Following the Harriet Island concert, he said people were told they could exit via the Robert Street bridge. "Thousands of people proceeded to cross that bridge, which had been closed to car traffic. Suddenly riot police blocked the north end of the bridge. holding all of us captive, in full gear with batons at the ready.

"There was no protesting or anything of that sort going on, just people leaving a legitimate event. Everyone was just following their orders on which way to exit. Then they treated us like we were doing something illegal."

Things got tense he said as word rumbled through the crowd that tear gas might be used. He said he and others called 911. Riot police eventually moved aside and everyone walked by without incident.

Later, he said he was shocked to hear a local news report that protester had purposefully blocked the Robert Street Bridge.

"We weren't protesters or anarchists," Morson said, "just regular citizens trying to get back home."