CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Dozens of protesters clogged streets and blocked traffic Tuesday 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 at least 14 people away in handcuffs in what was the most vigorous day of protests 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.
Ten of those arrested Tuesday identified themselves as illegal immigrants who were protesting in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Other demonstrators got into shouting matches with delegates and cut off the primary route used by buses bringing convention attendees 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.
Tuesday’s largest demonstration started when a half dozen Vietnam-era veterans calling for better medical care and other issues were joined in an unauthorized march by dozens of members of the Occupy movement. The Occupy group was protesting the incarceration of a soldier accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks.
About 50 protesters disrupted traffic by sitting down in the middle of the intersection. They were quickly surrounded by heavily armed officers in riot gear. A police major using a loudspeaker urged the protesters to enter a nearby fenced-in area designated by the city for permitted convention demonstrations.
“All of America used to be a free speech zone,” said John Murdock, 37, a protester from New York who came to Charlotte after protesting last week at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Gesturing toward the many officers, he added: “This stuff is right out of George Orwell.”
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 as long as there was no violence. 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 mingled outside 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, some of whom carried anti-Obama signs, responded: “No more years!”
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.