Protest site surprisingly, even disappointingly, calm Ready for rowdies, police guide tourists instead; REPUBLICAN CONVENTION; CAMPAIGN 1996


SAN DIEGO -- As one of a dozen police officers assigned to the official protest site at the GOP convention, Detective John McGill thought he had pulled an important, possibly even dangerous, assignment.

He had trained for riots and rowdy demonstrators but instead has spent the better part of his time helping lost tourists.

"We prepared and prepared and prepared for a long time, and then it comes to this," he said, gesturing to the mostly empty parking lot designated for protesters. "I'm more of a tourist director and information booth than anything else."

Most of the time, the designated protest zone -- a fenced parking lot across from the convention center -- has been home to peaceful groups of 20 or so demonstrators. Since the protest zone opened five days ago, police have made only two arrests for public intoxication.

For 55 minutes at a time, groups rail at the Republicans, who are barely visible across a 10-foot-high security fence and three sets of railroad tracks.

Their chants and wailings get lost in the steady drone of the TV satellite trucks parked across from the convention center, so that their words are inaudible to even those passing nearby.

And few of the delegates were listening anyway.

"So it's over there somewhere?" asked Ted O'Meara, a Republican from Maine. "I'd heard there was a protest area, but I wasn't sure where it was."

Only those convention-goers who happen to pass through the east entrance are even vaguely aware that the site exits.

"I know they had some lesbians and homosexuals there the other day," said Pete Naaden, a North Dakota delegate. "I really don't have any interest in them."

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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