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Running from the Cops at the RNC

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , News Report//Audio, Words//Photos//Audio: Donny Lumpkins Posted: Sep 04, 2008

ST. PAUL -- I checked on the capitol building on and off for most of the day Tuesday, just to see what was going on and to keep my eyes out for anyone getting rowdy.

The last time I went to check, the crowd had gotten exponentially larger and seemed to me to be kneeling. When I got closer to the people I could see a man in a button-up shirt with an afro yapping on a mega phone. Closer still, I realized what I was seeing, and I thought, Oh S--t is that Rage Against the Machine? And lo and behold it was, standing in front of this kneeling crowd, doing songs over the mega phone, accompanied by the crowd clapping.

They were not scheduled to be there, and Rages surprise appearance got the crowd amped. The people sang the songs in unison. F--k you, I wont do what you tell me; F--k you, I wont do what you tell me! I could feel the tone switching from peaceful hippie protest to something else, something more fever-driven. As fast as they swooped in, Rage left, and with them went all of the protesters.

Rage disappeared, leaving hundreds of kids heading for a heavily policed downtown St. Paul. From the street, you could see the police in riot gear lining the sidewalks on both sides. The crowd moved together loud chanting yelling, Whose street? Our streets!

AUDIO:Donny in the middle of the chaos

(7m 40s, mp3,6.8MB)Download File

Do they not see the men in big, black samurai-like armor lining up with batons at every turn? Or do they just not care? I talked to a young man named Dillon wailing with the mob. I asked him why he thought people were so up-in-arms and he told me, Music does a lot to people, but also I thing people really want something that theyre afraid might not happen.

Soon after I spoke to Dillon, there were cries from behind us. Theyre putting their gas masks on! Theyre putting their gas mask on! I turned around to look and saw a new wave of cops slowly creeping up behind the crowd in black SUVs, paddy wagons, on foot and on bikes, all with ominous jet-black gas masks strapped to their faces. Their eyes through the foggy plastic eyeholes were the only distinguishable human features.

The cops were holding the non-lethal guns and moving as slow and calculated as a pride of lions. Its an army! I thought. Where are they all coming from? This is like the Neo versus Smith fight at the end of The Matrix Revolution, where more and more killer Sentinel bots kept showing up from what seemed like thin air.

As helicopters beat overhead, the riot officers crept into formation, surrounding the protesters. The battle of wills, between the precision of the police and the unpredictability of the mob, was on the verge of tipping to one side or the other.

There are children in there, there are kids youre about to gas, someone pleaded with the policemen. Arent you still American!?

More police. More gas masks. Roads blocked by men with sticks, only one way to walkand that was down the street towards the Excel Center, where the streets were completely blocked off. If we continue this way, we will be trapped between tiers and tiers of blockades and an army of riot police. I lagged back, steering clear of the eye of the fray. If they were gonna gas us, I didnt want to be caught with a tape recorder instead of a mask.

Right in front of the diner I sat and jammed at the night before, the worst was realized.

Trapped. With nowhere for the bulk of the protesters to go, they had reached the barricades. The distance between them and me became greater with every new squad that stood between the onlookers and the protesters.

More cops showed up, gas masks were taken off and put back on multiple times. Then people started to get calls from their friends stuck between the wall and the cops. One young man named Ryan told me his friend called and asked if he knew any way out, he had to tell him there was not. They set them up, he said, barely keeping it together. Someone yelled, Theyre sitting ducks in there!

What started as a protest at dusk was now something else entirely at night. After some time more calls came in from the people stuck, they said the cops were letting them out. Relief from the onlookers shut out of the situation only lasted a second before the officers pushed us back further.

One cop yelled for us to go back east, because there was a high probability they would release tear gas. Wasnt it over? Why still gas them? I followed a young man around a corner, where he was meeting up with a friend who got out.

Down a narrow street where the protesters were supposed to escape the barricade and cops, I heard two loud bangs and saw two flashes. Bunches of bottlenecked marchers came running around the corner at top speed. GAS! people yelled as they ran. The direction they were running in was cut off by another wall of police, who directed all of them up a hill towards the capitol building, where this whole thing began in the first place.

On the way, I spoke to two young women from St. Paul, with rags pulled tight over their faces.

Weve never seen anything like this before, one of them told me of her experiences of Saint Paul. Were a very quant and peaceful town usually. Its never like this. They seemed to be having a good time and Im sure they were both grinning madly beneath the rags on their faces. We got tear gassed yesterday, one of them said. While talking to them, I saw a young lady on her knees getting her eyes washed out before jumping up and jetting up the hill. I caught up to her.

I dont even know what happened. I was just walking, trying to get home and all of a sudden they started shooting and the gas came everywhere and started spraying everybody. She said it burned like hell and that she couldnt breathe. She was out of breath from running, eyes stinging from the gas. I dont get it. Seriously, nobody did anything. We were just standing there and they just

We parted ways and I continued up to where this whole bizarre scene started. The capitol building. The closer I got, I could see through the darkness more cops lined up at the steps of the building.

F--k, I thought, What now?

I dipped across the street, grazing shoulders with more riot gear cops that were now headed for the stragglers left behind. I found refuge under a tree, across the street from the capitolaway from the madness. What now, what now? I had to get out of there!

I hopped on the first bus I found out of the city. About an hour later, I ended up in Minneapolis, with nowhere to stay and loaded with thousands of dollars of equipment digital recorder, cell phones, laptop etc.on me. I never thought I would want to see a cop so soon after my little scare back in Saint Paul. Three hours later, I was fast asleep on the couch of a friend of a friend, in some place called Uptown. Another day.

Donny Lumpkins is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

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