CHARLOTTE — Dozens of protesters clogged streets and blocked traffic today outside the Democratic National Convention on its opening day, making for some tense moments that ultimately brought more theater than violence.
Just five blocks from Time Warner Cable Arena, where delegates are meeting this week, protesters took over an intersection for about two hours, attracting hundreds of police officers who swooped in to surround them and try to funnel them to more secure areas.
Officers took two protesters away in handcuffs, other demonstrators got into shouting matches with delegates and their standoff cut off a route used by buses bringing delegates to the area. Still, no violence or significant damage occurred even after the protesters were eventually allowed to march into the heart of Charlotte’s central business district.
It was by far the most vigorous protest since both parties began meeting to formally nominate their presidential candidates. Republicans gathered last week in Tampa, where just two people were arrested by the end of the three-day affair.
Today’s demonstration started when a half dozen veterans protesting the incarceration of a soldier accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks were joined in an unauthorized march by dozens of members of the Occupy movement.
About 50 protesters disrupted traffic by sitting down in the middle of the intersection. Officers in riot gear warned them to disperse or be arrested.
The impasse ended after two protesters spoke to the Charlotte police chief and said they were told they could continue to walk as a group on public sidewalks. They then continued past the city’s convention center, which is hosting some convention-related activities for delegates. The facility several blocks from the arena is also where most media are staged.
The demonstrators’ stated goal had been to talk to convention delegates, and the two groups came close to each other at the edge of the convention center. Some were seen shouting at each other through a line of police officers who were separating them with mountain bikes.
At one point, a group of delegates shouted “Four more years!” The marchers responded: “No more years!”
As the march continued, protesters turned onto the main thoroughfare of North Tryon Street toward the headquarters of Bank of America. Still, the path police were allowing them to take kept them at least two blocks away from the arena.
After the group marched all the way to the other end of business district known as Uptown, they stopped on a street corner and one of the protesters called out for what to do next. Everyone raised their hand to vote to return to the park where they’d been gathering.
They then quietly headed back the way they came.
The demonstration began around 12:30 p.m. when 200 protesters began marching outside of designated routes and without the necessary permit. They had only made it a few blocks from their home base at the park when hundreds of officers began arriving.
Officers made a barricade of mountain bikes to stop the march, surrounded the group and attempted to corral them into an area designated for protester speeches.
A protester who tried to cross the barricade was put in handcuffs by officers. Earlier in the march, the protester had identified himself to a reporter as John Penley and said he was a military veteran.
Penley, of Asheville, said he and the other former service members wanted to raise awareness of veterans’ issues and talk to delegates. They were also protesting the incarceration of a soldier accused of giving classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning, chanting: “Free Bradley, arrest Barack.” A second protester was put in handcuffs after the group left the intersection. It wasn’t immediately clear why police stopped the man, who was wearing a mask and combat boots.
Two other people had been arrested during a protest march on Sunday.
Oklahoma delegate David Ratcliff, 43, said he’d been waiting for a bus but found out that it wasn’t running so he walked over to see what was happening. Ratcliff said that although he doesn’t agree with some protesters’ views on Obama, he was encouraged to see people expressing themselves.