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After two-hour standoff with police, protesters plan night march

By Ely Portillo, Steve Harrison and Meghan Cooke
elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. A nearly two-hour standoff between protesters and police ended shortly before 3 p.m., as police allowed about 100 demonstrators to walk up the sidewalk toward the Convention Center and into the heart of uptown.

“Obama is a war criminal,” protesters yelled at DNC delegates on the Convention Center steps.

“Four more years,” Obama supporters responded. Many looked surprised and confused as marchers shouted expletives and chanted, “Drone strikes are war crimes, give Obama prison time.”

At least one protester was arrested; a second was detained.

After blocking protesters at the intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell streets for almost two hours, police allowed them to keep walking when marchers agreed to keep their demonstrations to the sidewalks, said Laurel Green, an Occupy Charlotte member.

Marchers headed north on Tryon Street as a moving police roadblock stopped traffic at cross streets.

“We’re just going to let them keep moving,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said.

At 9 p.m., protesters have said they plan to march again, this time in an anti-capitalist rally expected to reach Bank of America headquarters.

Earlier in the afternoon, as about 200 marchers tried to make their way up Stonewall Street, a crowd of about 300 police officers surrounded them, completely blocking off the intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell streets.

Protesters pitched a tent at the ordinarily busy intersection.

The protesters, some of them war veterans, spoke out on a variety of issues and called for the release of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier suspected of leaking classified information to the website WikiLeaks.

The standoff between police and protesters was about a block from the Charlotte Convention Center, where thousands of members of the press have gathered.

“We just want to get where the news cameras are,” protester Anaheim James told the chief.

“They’re here,” Monroe responded, gesturing around.

Free speech zone ridiculed

John Penley, 60, an Asheville veteran, was arrested as he tried to cross police lines, a fellow veteran said. An organizer of the march, Penley had an American flag wrapped around him.

Police lines would have allowed protesters into the so-called “free speech zone,” near the convention center, but none went that way.

Some demonstrators lambasted the free speech zone, calling it a cage. They walked to the edge of the zone, and began doing the hokey pokey, putting one arm into the zone as they danced. “You do the hokey pokey and kiss your rights goodbye, that’s what it’s all about!” they sang

City Attorney Robert Hagemann stood in the empty free speech zone. Asked if this is what he expected, he replied: “It is what it is. What’s working out is that the police are handling this very well.”

All traffic in the area was redirected, and some buses that transported delegates were rerouted.

Some protesters taunted and cursed at officers.

“Your families should be ashamed of what you’ve done,” one of them yelled at the officers. “You make Dr. King roll in his grave.”

The officers stared back without responding. A supervisor behind them could be heard saying, “Don’t engage in conversation.”

Marchers taunt, praise police

The protesters, gathered near the NASCAR Hall of Fame, sang, sat in the street and chanted: “We’re standing here for Manning, we shall not be moved. We’re standing up for freedom and we shall not be moved.”

Police on bicycles surrounded them.

“How do you feel about breaking our constitutional rights?” one protester yelled at police.

Jason Dow, 26, faced police and yelled, questioning why the march had been halted. “Why is pedestrian traffic blocked selectively for us?” Dow yelled at police.

Soon afterward, he and Chief Monroe talked, and within minutes, police let marchers through, telling them to keep to the sidewalks. Police also allowed a few marchers to wear helmets and bandana masks – both of which are against a special city ordinance for the DNC.

Green, the Occupy Charlotte member, gave the police high marks for their handling of the protest. “It was well done, I thought,” she said.

Initially, many of the protesters said they wanted more action to help homeless and jobless veterans, and more efforts to prevent suicides among veterans. But as time went on, the complaints voiced by protesters became more general, with demonstrators shouting for a cleaner environment, help for the homeless and economic equality.

Protesters held an American flag upside down, “not out of disrespect but because our nation is in distress,” said Gregory Gifford, 47, one of the marchers.

At one point, left-wing demonstrators and anti-abortion protesters confronted each other near the Charlotte Convention Center, as activists chanting “free Bradley Manning” and others holding up signs with pictures of aborted fetuses hurled insults at one another.

Some activists said they support neither President Obama nor Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“I can’t vote for anyone who has a kill list and can’t vote for the war-mongerer who wants to replace him,” said Bob Van Wyck, of St. Petersburg, Fla., an Air National Guard veteran.

One man, stuck behind the police barricade at the intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell, said his trip to the convention center was delayed by about 20 minutes.

“It’s an annoyance,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “But it’s America.”

Staff writers Caroline McMillan, Gavin Off, Cleve Wootson, Fred Clasen-Kelly, Joe DePriest and Ames Alexander contributed.

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