As the Democrats celebrated inside the Pepsi Center on the opening day of the convention, outside on the streets police pepper-sprayed protesters and rounded up dozens of them in mass arrests near Civic Center Park. [includes rush transcript]
As the Democrats celebrated inside the Pepsi Center on opening day of the convention, outside on the streets police pepper-sprayed protesters and rounded up dozens of them in mass arrests. The incident began near the Civic Center Park around 7:00 p.m., where a few hundred protesters had gathered to march. The police arrived in full riot gear, surrounded the protesters, blocking them in before firing pepper spray into the crowd. Protesters fled across the park, where they were met by dozens of police officers who boxed them in. Many of the marchers sat down in the street. Nearly a hundred people were arrested.
Democracy Now! arrived on the scene moments afterwards and spoke with some of the eyewitnesses.
JACOB: My name is Jacob, and I work with Berkeley CopWatch. We go out, we watch the police when they’re interacting with people. So, obviously, we’re here at the DNC to ensure that police are not utilizing tactics that are against law.
And what took place about an hour ago is, we had a big group of protesters start marching, and what happened is they cordoned off the block on both sides, and without any warning or nothing, they initiated arrests. Now, the rest of the people that should have had an opportunity to leave were asked to go up the street and then were also enclosed. So, basically, what the police did is they just did a mass arrest with the intention of keeping people in jail for the next two days, so they won’t be out tomorrow, they won’t be out the day after, to protest.
STEPHEN NASH: I’m Steve Nash with Denver CopWatch. We’re a police accountability group that observes the police, and tonight we watched protesters block the street about a block from here. It’s about fifty protesters in the street. The police came at them in riot gear from both sides and hemmed them in. Then they refused to let anybody out, including people who were just on the sidewalk in the group, who were not actually trying to block the street. I saw one older legal observer who begged for the police to let him out, and they refused. They pushed him back into the crowd. Then they donned their gas masks and began pushing the media and legal observers and the public a block away in each direction and in a very aggressive manner.
JACOB: 99 percent of the officers tonight that are operating — look behind me — have no identification, which is against the law. An officer has to be identified by a badge or a nameplate. If you look behind me at all these sheriffs, there is not one of them identifiable. As you can see, these guys could hurt us at any given time, and we would not know how to hold them accountable. We can’t identify these guys. These guys are operating with complete impunity.
JOHN TARLETON: People were generally very calm. There were several legal observers there from the National Lawyers Guild who gave everybody their legal number, because we were — what was, you know, unclear at that moment was whether the police were going to do a mass arrest.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: A couple of cops came in and grabbed us and literally picked us up and took us to the processing station behind the building. And one cop was like, “What are we doing with them?” Another officer was like, “We’re arresting them.” Another officer was like, “I don’t know what we’re doing.” Another officer was, “We’re letting them go.” And so, everybody just kept going back and forth. Nobody knew what was going on. And so, eventually, they finally just took mug shots, took pictures of me with my ID, took pictures of me, profile and everything, and one officer was like, “Are you sure we’re letting them go?” He was like — another one was like, “I’m not sure.” And so, they finally just let both of us go.
RON KOVIC: I was inside of the Sheraton Hotel watching the convention. I had just heard Ted Kennedy’s inspiring speech, and someone whispered in my ear that there’s a riot outside. I immediately left. I left the hotel with a friend, and we came outside. We came outside to see what was happening. I came outside because of my concern for you, because of my concern for the young people who are demonstrating.
And that last voice was by Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Vietnam veteran, antiwar activist, who arrived on the scene soon after the protesters were arrested. Special thanks to Democracy Now! producer Hany Massoud for that report.
Eileen Clancy is with I-Witness Video. We just have a few seconds for Eileen to comment on what has happened. The behavior of the police that you’ve come to watch as you’ve watched in conventions past, Eileen?
EILEEN CLANCY: One thing, I have never seen more police officers with fewer identification marks on them as I saw last night. It’s a big problem. They have spanking new uniforms. Yet somehow the nameplates didn’t manage to remain attached.
Eileen Clancy, founding member of I-Witness Video.