Preparation and Protest
Political Repression in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has a long history of political repression. In 1894, Philadelphia police worked undercover to monitor a local contingent of "Coxey's Army" (a historic labor and employment rights march, named after Jacob Coxey of Ohio), which passed through Philadelphia on its way to Washington, DC. Seven years later, they prevented anarchist lecturer Emma Goldman from speaking in the city. More recent examples of intolerance include the 1978 and 1985 city-led attacks on the west Philadelphia home of the MOVE organization, as well as the 1981 shooting of former Black Panther and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted and sentenced to death for supposedly having killed officer Daniel Faulkner.
By 1981, it was common knowledge that the federal government had been spying on and disrupting movements like the Black Panther Party (BPP). In Abu-Jamal's murder trial, it was revealed that the FBI had been surveilling him since he was fourteen years old. For their part, and with a counterintelligence repertoire similar to that of the FBI, Philadelphia's Civil Affairs Unit (CAU) has long been known as the city's "political police." Under the authority of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), the CAU started in the early 1960s as the Civil Disobedience Unit (CDU), and partook in the surveillance, covert operations, and disruption of the COINTELPRO era. During the 1960s and 1970s, the CDU worked with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to spy on, infiltrate, and suppress Black liberation movements like the BPP and MOVE. In the 1980s, the CDU became the CAU and appeared to temper its aggressive tactics. Nevertheless, the organization was still actively gathering political intelligence right up until and during the RNC 2000 protests.
In 1987, Philadelphia activists gained a modest advantage against counterintelligence efforts when they sued the city, as well as local and federal law enforcement, for spying on them and obstructing their efforts to demonstrate at an event celebrating the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit resulted in an injunction that prohibited Philadelphia police from infiltration except with the approval of the mayor, the managing director, and the police commissioner. Then, in 1991, protests against the AIDS policies of then-president George H.W. Bush resulted in another lawsuit when activists were violently attacked by police. The combined effect of a monetary settlement from the lawsuit and the earlier injunction-inspired mayoral directive against infiltration helped mitigate aggressive police behavior toward activists for nearly ten years — until the RNC 2000.
The history of political repression in Philadelphia cannot be properly evaluated without recognizing the much broader and longstanding problem of police brutality. For people of color, police violence is a daily reality. Less than three weeks before the RNC 2000, about a dozen police officers were filmed beating Thomas Jones, an unarmed African American man. Jones was seriously injured after being shot five times by police prior to the beating. Further evidence of the city's racist legal system can be found in the disproportionate incarceration rate for Black Philadelphians — an astonishing 70 percent of people jailed in the city — and a death-row population with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country. For their part, the Philadelphia district attorney's office has proven to be reluctant to prosecute police accused of brutality and murder. At the time of the RNC 2000, District Attorney Lynne Abraham had come under fire for her lackluster effort to prosecute officer Christopher DiPasquale for the 1998 shooting death of Donta Dawson, a nineteen-year-old unarmed Black man. Abraham also refused to prosecute officer John Salkowski for the January 2000 murder of twenty-six-year-old African American activist and student Erin Forbes. But it was in her role as a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge (a post she held from 1980 to 1991) that brought Abraham notoriety for signing the 1985 warrant that enabled the police bombing of the MOVE house. After becoming district attorney in 1991, Abraham quickly became known for her "tough on crime" attitude and her extensive use of the death penalty. It was enough to compel the New York Times Magazine to call her the "Deadliest D.A." These links between police brutality, the city's racist legal system, and its history of political repression were not lost on activists planning to protest the RNC 2000.
Citywide Effort to Chill Dissent
In addition to law enforcement, Philadelphia's history of political repression was made possible through the full cooperation of municipal agencies and, commonly, the tacit approval of mainstream media. All of these factors came into play during the RNC 2000, and it was within this context that Philadelphia embraced the role of host city.
Before becoming mayor just months prior to the convention, John Street had been a City Council member in North Philadelphia and Center City for nearly twenty years and was previously well regarded as a community organizer working on housing issues. Despite these dubious activist roots, however, Mayor Street was under pressure to pull off a seamless convention in order to attract tourist dollars. Displaying his contempt for RNC protesters, Street publicly characterized them as "idiots" and threatened "a very ugly response" for those aiming to "disrupt" or "make a spectacle" of the city. In a similar fashion, Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney told Reuters that, while he didn't mind "taking the first punch," he would surely "retaliate." As far as Timoney was concerned, "nobody is going to disrupt the convention." Moreover, he was prepared to use "fisticuffs" if necessary.
Sworn in as Philadelphia's police commissioner in 1998 after working for the New York Police Department (NYPD) for nearly thirty years, Timoney had already policed three political party conventions, including the Democratic National Convention in 1992. Nevertheless, Timoney's defining moment with the NYPD came during the Tompkins Square Park riot, which he led in August 1988. During the riot, police attacked homeless people, housing activists, and their supporters. Timoney left the NYPD as deputy commissioner, but his legacy gave dissidents cause for concern as he took over a beleaguered PPD. Initially hired to address criticism that the PPD was ineffective and corrupt, the Police Advisory Commission received more reports of misconduct by Timoney's police force during the year of the convention than in any previous year of the commission's existence.
While Timoney and his PPD were the most culpable for abuses perpetrated against activists during the RNC 2000 protests, the effort to chill dissent also included a wide range of city agencies and departments. These included the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Fire Department, the Law Department, Licenses and Inspection (L&I), and the Managing Director's Office (MDO) (which, according to the City of Philadelphia's website, is "the Cabinet-level office that directly supervises the [City's] thirteen operating departments"). The MDO was also the city agency tasked with issuing permits for political demonstrations, a role it abused on multiple occasions.
One of the most egregious examples of predemonstration harassment was carried out by DHS against organizers of the "March for Economic Human Rights," planned for the opening day of the convention. The march had been organized by KWRU, a people of color–led organization of poor and homeless families based in North Philadelphia, and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), a national network of grassroots anti-poverty organizations. The city was well aware that poor families from these organizations would populate the march; however, rather than designing ways to accommodate them, they refused to issue a demonstration permit and announced plans for taking children into custody if their parents got arrested. With less than two weeks before the march, DHS used the threat of arrest and the removal of children to stifle participation.
With less than a week before the RNC 2000 protests, and with too little time for activists to mount an effective legal challenge, the Philadelphia City Council adopted a ban on wearing masks, including gas masks and bandanas. Introduced by Council member Rick Mariano, the anti-mask legislation was modeled after a Georgia law designed by the Anti-Defamation League to help identify rallying members of the Ku Klux Klan. A similar measure was adopted by Detroit in advance of the June 2000 protests against the Organization of American States meeting in nearby Windsor, Ontario. Detroit police used the ordinance to arrest thirteen people. Despite vocal opposition from some members of the Philadelphia City Council, the bill passed 11–5 and was signed by Mayor Street.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia courts took action by announcing a scheduling change to accommodate anticipated mass arrests. According to the Legal Intelligencer, Common Pleas Court president Judge Alex Bonavitacola said prior to the protests that "all trials involving persons in custody, police officer witnesses, the use of sheriffs and jurors will be postponed to free up law enforcement authorities at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney." The courts seemed untroubled by the likelihood that postponement of routine criminal cases would adversely affect the rights of those already imprisoned and awaiting trial. Nevertheless, the diversion of regular court business allowed the judicial branch to focus disproportionate attention on the expected mass arrest of protesters.
In the Beginning
By November 1998, more than a year after then-mayor Ed Rendell formed "Philadelphia 2000," the nonprofit Republican convention host committee, the city had been officially selected as the site for the RNC 2000. Philadelphia 2000 was set up to raise funds, negotiate public and private contracts, facilitate the convention, and absorb any liability for the Republican Party and the City of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, one of Philadelphia 2000's co-chairs and a leading contender for the vice-presidential nomination, was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the convention and its accompanying security apparatus. By the time the RNC 2000 occurred, Ridge had achieved a reputation for carrying out the first execution in a Northeastern state since 1967 and signing two execution warrants for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Another co-chair and the driving force behind Philadelphia 2000 was David L. Cohen, chief of staff for Ed Rendell and a partner at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, one of the hundred largest law firms in the country. For his part, City Solicitor Kenneth Trujillo negotiated between Philadelphia 2000 and the city for labor and service contracts, including convention security, emergency medical services, and telecommunications. It was Trujillo's office that negotiated the insurance policy purchased by Philadelphia 2000, which covered the city against liability for violating people's civil rights.
In August 1999, a full year prior to thousands of people protesting in the streets, Philadelphia 2000 and the city's Law Department drafted agreements that gave the Republicans both "right of first refusal" on more than a hundred city venues and an "Omnibus Special Events Permit." Signed in the shadows away from public scrutiny, these agreements came to embody the hubris of the GOP and the city, and their complete contempt for dissent. This contempt would reveal itself in other ways later, but the path had been paved for ultimate deference to the RNC and the Republican Party.
On the surface, the space grab was meant to allow free rein in event planning; however, it was also a thinly veiled attempt to prohibit protest activity and limit the ability to hold demonstrations. And while the arrangement included provisions for a "protest pit" — an officially designated "free speech zone" — to pacify any outcry over the exclusion of protest, few were fooled. The "pit" was to be 40 by 190 feet in size and located at FDR Park, far away from the convention site. Free speech was further curtailed by a requirement that groups apply for one of seventy-two protest-pit time slots — with each slot representing fifty minutes of so-called protest — in a police-run lottery. Meanwhile, Republicans were to have full use of all ten blocks surrounding the First Union Center where the convention was being held.
Two of the first organizations to apply for — and be denied — permits were Unity 2000, a coalition of more than a hundred groups planning what was expected to be the convention's largest march and rally on July 30, and the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, which was planning a smaller march and rally for July 29. Unity 2000 applied for a permit in February 2000 and was twice rejected with the explanation that the Republicans had previously reserved the space. The Ad Hoc Committee's permit application was pending at the time, but it too was expecting to be rejected. On April 6, 2000, Unity 2000 and the committee filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs accused the city of viewpoint discrimination and argued that "while the First Amendment clearly guarantees the right of the Republican Party to convene, the same amendment protects the right of those with competing views." The suit further argued, "Philadelphia cannot prefer Republican over dissenting speech, and cannot abrogate its responsibility to accommodate protesting speech by handing over the entire public space to one side of the political spectrum."
Under threat of a federal ruling that it was violating the U.S. Constitution by denying permits to protest groups, the city agreed to a settlement on April 28, 2000. As a result of the agreement, the city made significant legal, political, and financial concessions. With the publicity that was generated from the lawsuit, Philadelphia suffered a political defeat that threatened its historical status as the "cradle of liberty." The biggest hit taken by the city, however, was a financial one. While Unity 2000 agreed to pay a $10,000 permit fee as part of the settlement, the city agreed to provide all services to the protesters at no charge. This included a stage and sound system, portable toilets, medical services, security, and cleanup services, totaling an estimated $75,000. Yet, despite its political loss, the city continued to deny permits to other protest groups including the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), which was organizing the March for Economic Human Rights on July 31. KWRU would have ongoing difficulty around its permit application and other matters right up until the time of the march.
Police Training and Protest Observation
The large turnout of protesters in Seattle against the WTO may have surprised many people in the U.S., but the Philadelphia police department had the forethought to travel there to observe the demonstrations. It was around six months before the Republican convention, and Philadelphia police were anxious to analyze protester tactics. Looking back on Seattle in February 2000, Timoney stated that there would be "a whole host of training for police" in the lead-up to the convention that summer. That same month, a conference was held at the FBI Academy in Virginia for police commanders from around the country — including Las Vegas, San Diego, Minneapolis, Tulsa, and Washington, DC, to study the Seattle protests and prepare for similar events. Around that time, the International Association of Chiefs of Police noted that attendance had doubled for its "critical situation" courses on crowd control. Philadelphia took full advantage of this heightened concern by demanding more money for RNC security. By March 2000, Timoney had requested an additional $5 million for police overtime, training, and expenses. For their part, the Pennsylvania State Police asked for $1.9 million to purchase new riot gear.
In April 2000, hundreds of FBI and other law enforcement agents from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey gathered at a former Philadelphia Naval Base with the supposed aim of being trained in counterterrorism and crowd control techniques. Ironically called "Stolen Liberty," the training included a fictional hostage scenario. Normally of little interest to the general public, trainings like this can serve to intimidate would-be protesters if strategically placed in the mainstream media. In another pre-RNC training, police practiced crowd dispersal and mass arrests at the Naval Air Warfare Center just north of Philadelphia. They were also trained in the use of riot gear and vehicle formations to break up crowds. Undercover police were also spotted in Philadelphia conducting surveillance months before the convention. At a well-attended Philadelphia teach-in preceding the April 2000 IMF/World Bank protests scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, plainclothes police filmed a crowd of people watching the "Insurrection Landscapers" puppet show in Rittenhouse Square, which is adjacent to the Philadelphia Ethical Society where the teach-in was held. By this time, police were also routinely harassing activists by asking them if they lived in a particular neighborhood, taking pictures of their houses, and even rummaging through their trash.
Excerpted from Crashing the Party by Kris Hermes. Copyright © 2015 Kris Hermes. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Section I In the Streets
Chapter 1 Preparation and Protest 15
Chapter 2 August 1 37
Chapter 3 The Great Puppet Caper 49
Chapter 4 Jail Solidarity 67
Section II In the Courts
Chapter 5 R2K Legal 93
Chapter 6 Court Solidarity 113
Chapter 7 Political Trials and Early Victories 123
Chapter 8 Judge McCaffery 151
Chapter 9 Felony Trials and Long-Haul Victories 173
Chapter 10 Civil Litigation 195
Section III Legacies and Lessons
Chapter 11 Success and Failure of Civil Litigation 215
Chapter 12 The Legacy of August 1 227
Chapter 13 A New Dawn for Radical Legal Activism 261
About the Contributors 337