Police calm, small crowds mark DNC, RNC protests

By Mitch Weiss

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 1:03 p.m. MDT

Walking through the two cities during the conventions, attendees were likely to see armed police at nearly every street corner and major building. Eight foot steel barricades and checkpoints manned by heavily armed officers ringed government buildings and the convention venues, while police helicopters thudded overhead. Large squads of officers riding bicycles and mounted on horses responded quickly to any report of trouble.

Both cities received $50 million each in federal money for security. The cash was used to buy equipment for crowd control and pay for thousands of additional officers from out of town — enough to easily outnumber and surround groups of demonstrators. Charlotte and Tampa both added more than 3,000 outside officers to supplement their forces of 1,750 and 1,000, respectively. They are buttressed by personnel from an alphabet soup of federal agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service and Homeland Security.

Such tight security has become routine at party conventions since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But as previous conventions and high-profile events show, crowd-control tactics only go so far when large groups of protesters are willing to use violence to make their message heard.

In May, 90 people were arrested and eight officers injured over several days of protests around the NATO summit in Chicago. Police there were widely praised for their use of restraint even after a group of demonstrators refused to disperse and some threw bottles and boards at officers. Officers from Charlotte were on hand to help with crowd control and study their tactics.

Four years ago at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., a march of 10,000 anti-war protesters devolved when pockets of self-described anarchists covered their faces with black bandannas, smashed windows and punctured tires. As protests continued that week, a force of about 3,700 riot gear-clad officers responded with pepper spray, tear gas, percussion grenades. By the convention's final night, more than 800 people had been arrested, including some reporters caught up in the police sweeps.

That year's Democratic convention in Denver was calmer by comparison, but still resulted in 152 protest-related arrests. About two-thirds of the arrests came when police met a group armed with rocks and bags of urine blocking a street near a municipal building. Then-chief Gerald Whitman said things went as smoothly as they did because of an approach that included officers communicating with protesters by cell phone. His force spent months making contact with the demonstrators, who kept police updated on their plans.

Outside the Republican convention in 2004, New York City police arrested more than 1,800 amid extremely heightened security two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Protesters questioned police tactics and filed dozens of lawsuits against the city, resulting in many of the charges being thrown out.

Boston police took a non-confrontational approach in 2004, arresting only six people.

Police in Charlotte have largely mirrored that approach for the convention that wraps up Thursday night.

When a handful of Occupy protesters pitched tents in a city park in violation of an anti-camping ordinance, authorities decided to let them stay.

About 800 people took part in Sunday's long-planned March on Wall Street South, which followed a designated route negotiated with the city. Hundreds of officers used mountain bikes as mobile barricades to hem in the protesters, and a helicopter passed so low at one point that the crowd could feel the wind off its rotors.

But when demonstrators sat in the street in front of the headquarters of Bank of America and Duke Energy that day, appearing to prepare for arrests, the officers simply waited them out. A police captain chatted with one of the protest leaders about the relative loudness of their bullhorns, parting with a friendly fist bump.

Monroe, the Charlotte chief, said that his plan has been for police to monitor the protests without being too overbearing. He said the police would only take action if trouble arose.

Still, some of the protesters have been upset by officers' monitoring.

"It's a case of free speech. We shouldn't have to ask the police permission to protest, to speak our minds," said Perry King, 57, of Washington, D.C. who used his vacation to protest. "Why are they afraid of our words?"

Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in Tampa, Martiga Lohn in St. Paul, Tammy Webber in Chicago and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this report.

Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbiesecker

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