I was going to call it a night. After nearly three hours of observing the cat-and-mouse game between protesters and police the scene was starting to get tiresome. (Best protester chant of the night: “You’re hot, you’re cute, now take off your riot suit.”)
I planned to meet a friend for a drink at the Great Waters Brewing Company in downtown St. Paul. But this notion was foiled by the fact that dozens of cops in riot gear were blocking the bridge at Rice Street and John Ireland Boulevard. “There’s an explosive device that the bomb squad is investigating,” we were told. Other routes into downtown were also being blocked by police officers. There seemed to be no route out of the chaos.
So I headed north towards University Avenue, where the protesters appeared to be gravitating. A cloud of smoke could be seen near the Greyhound bus station. I broke into a jog through the Sears parking lot with a crowd of folks to see what was happening. Cops on bicycles were swarming all around. Soon the smoke was accompanied by percussive grenades.
As I approached the west end of the Sears building, deafening blasts began echoing all around me. A cop on a megaphone barked an order: “This is the police department. Your main method of leaving is southbound.”
I retreated in a crowd towards the Marion Street bridge over I-94. Police officers in riot gear, wielding cans of mace, followed closely behind. “You’re gonna get sprayed if you don’t move,” they stated repeatedly through their gas masks. Then more percussive grenades and smoke bombs, this time in the direction we were being directed by the cops to travel. So I turned and headed east, only to be confronted by more deafening blasts.
Eventually I ended up at the edge of the Marion Street bridge. The person directly in front of me approached an officer, explaining that he was trying to get to work. The cop’s response: “Move your feet. You should have left a long time ago.”
As we walked across the bridge, an officer addressed the crowd through a megaphone. “Sit down and put your hands on your head,” he said. “If you are on this bridge, you are under arrest.” Each end of the span was now surrounded by dozens of cops in riot gear. There were roughly (and this a highly arbitrary estimate) 400 people on the bridge.
After about fifteen minutes, the officers began searching and handcuffing everyone on the bridge. “Hands on your head,” they repeatedly barked, cans of mace at the ready. A gentleman a few feet away from me — who I believe was a journalist — informed the officers that he was carrying a gun as they began to arrest him. They pulled him away from the crowd and a team of cops searched him and presumably removed the weapon.
Not long afterwards I was restrained in plasticuffs, thoroughly searched and seated on a sidewalk with other people who were being detained. My status as a journalist meant that I did not spend much time in cuffs. They segregated reporters and legal observers from the rest of the detainees. Our handcuffs were removed and we were seated on a grass median. Metro Transit buses were waiting to transport the not-so-fortunate others, presumably to the Ramsey County Jail.
Eventually I was placed in a van with eight others. We were driven across the Sears parking lot, given a citation for unlawful assembly and released. I got to keep my pair of plasticuffs as a souvenir. But the cops still have two of my pens.