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As convention begins, no protesters in 'Freedom Cage'
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday August 25, 2008

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Across town from convention, police clash with protesters

DENVER -- Fears of confrontation between police and protesters outside the Democratic National Convention seem to have been overblown. As Democrats gathered for their convention's first night at the Pepsi Center, there were no protesters to be seen in the fenced in free speech zone a few hundred yards away.

Dubbed the "freedom cage" by activists, the police-sanctioned protest area seems to have been largely abandoned. Across town though, hundreds of protesters clashed with police.

"I don't think anyone would come here because it's kind of ridiculous," said William Aanstoos, a 19-year-old from Asheville, NC, who came to Denver to participate in the protests. He said other events were happening elsewhere in the city.

Later Monday night, protesters were pepper sprayed and arrested in front of the Denver City and County Building, about 1.5 miles from the Pepsi Center. It's believed to be the first time police used any kind of force against protesters.

Authorities say police were trying to disperse a crowd of about 300 that had disrupted traffic. Police have led at least two people away as the crowd chanted "Let them go!"

Some of the protesters threw bags containing a colored liquid at police.

Police Lt. Ron Saunier says he did not immediately know whether there had been arrests.

He said, "The situation is still very fluid and active."

On Sunday, the day before the convention's start, an anti-war protest snaked past the Pepsi Center, but by Monday the security perimeter had been expanded so that no one without a credential could get within two city blocks of the convention site.

The "freedom cage" was just outside the security perimeter on the southwest corner of the Pepsi Center Complex, but there was no entrance to the perimeter anywhere near the protest zone. Even if protesters had bothered to show up, it's unlikely any Democratic delegates or reporters would have seen them.

A police officer stationed near the protest zone told RAW STORY that members of the anti-war group Code Pink had staged a demonstration there earlier Monday, but that it had been mostly empty the rest of the day. Around 5 p.m. local time, there were a few scattered reporters but no protests.

An empty microphone was set up in one corner of the fenced in parking lot with a sign up sheet for speakers. Some pranksters apparently filled out most of the sheet with mock entries. For example, "MLK 'I have a dream, that one day, all free speech will be done in cages.'"

The ACLU had expressed concern that police would be over-zealous in cracking down on protesters. Denver police had previously been told to be on high alert for "stockpiles" of such innocuous items as maps and bicycles. A spokesman for the organization said earlier Monday night, before the arrests across town, that things had been pretty "quiet."

The police had been certainly making their presence known throughout the weekend. Hundreds of officers were deployed throughout the city on foot, bike and horseback. Police SUVs also were driving through downtown Denver Sunday and Monday with up to a dozen officers each riding on platforms attached to the sides of the vehicles. There was a constant whir of helicopters overhead throughout the city during the convention.

Most of the officers assigned to the empty protest zone were milling around looking bored Monday evening. Aanstoos, who spoke to RAW STORY in the abandoned "freedom cage" said most of his encounters with police officers had been friendly.

With wire reports