RNC riot trip report: one journalist's encounter with mace
By Andy Mannix
It was almost 6:30 p.m. on the corner of Cedar Street and 12th Street in St. Paul Thursday, and what had set out to be a symbolic march protesting the last day of the Republican National Convention was at its second standoff with police since it left the Capitol an hour and a half before -- purposely the moment their assembly permit expired.
Some noise about "an illegal assembly" and going "back where you came from" was grumbled through a megaphone by a source rendered invisible by multiple waves of riot cops, but the protesters weren't having any of it. "You go back to where you came from," one of them screamed,"back to hell!"
It was a chaotic scene. The police and protesters had been battling for the past three days, and no one wanted to finish the loser. There were about 500 protesters up against 150 police officers geared up for a fight, with reinforcements on the way. The protesters were beating on drums and chanting things like: "This peaceful protest is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"
The police were aiming tear gas guns at the crowd and choosing targets. Every so often they would run out and tackle somebody, and the crowd would get agitated. But I didn't see anyone lose control or physically antagonize the police, though some looked as if they wanted to.
The police gave the protesters a five-minute warning. Then they were to close in and arrest everyone who hadn't retreated. Some of the moderates and voyeurs moved out of the way, but the staunch Lefties and radicals weren't going anywhere. For them, this was more than four days of rising tension, this was eight years of frustration. Maybe even longer for some.
An officer in riot gear advances. More photos in the slideshow.
My editor, City Pages' Jeff Shaw, and I decided to stick around. I was worried my point-and-shoot camera would run out of batteries before things got ugly.
When our five minutes was up, the police kept true to their word and advanced. The protesters were sitting peacefully, waiting for the inevitable. Shaw and I were standing up, holding our press credentials high like white flags. The police didn't seem to notice. A few of them started playing pinball with Shaw, their riot sticks as the levers, and Shaw as the ball.
I felt four giant hands grabbing and pulling at my shirt.
"I'm a working journalist," I explained, still holding my press credentials in one hand, "just tell me where to go." After being hurled onto the grass, I stood up and tried to regain my bearings, but it was no use. To my right was a line of riot police that stretched further than I could see. To my left stood a cement wall. Someone continued to push me from behind, and ordered me to "get the fuck down." Get the fuck down I did.
I dropped to my knees and put my hands behind my head, trying to further stress that I was a journalist. Still on the ground, I felt my back being hosed with liquid. Then the stream hit my face straight on. "Get the fuck up!" the same officer ordered. I was thrown into the street by some force I couldn't make out through the retinal burn, across police lines and into the safety of the crowd.
Andy Mannix, soaked with mace. More photos in the slideshow.
The mace began to sting all over my body, bleeding through my three shirts and feeding on my skin. Some good samaritian sprayed my eyes with antacid and saline solution. People shoved microphones and video cameras at Shaw and me, bombarding us with questions.
I looked at my camera. The battery had died. "Shit," I thought, "I barely got any of it on film."