Thursday, August 3, 2000 Courts begin processing activists held after clashes
Attorneys complained of excessive bail for those arrested. Prosecutors said it was necessary to ensure that defendants appeared for trial.
By David Zucchino INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The ongoing showdown between police and protesters shifted from the streets to the courts yesterday, with 279 demonstrators arrested during Tuesday's rampage in Center City awaiting arraignment as police cataloged the human and property damage the activists had caused.
On a day when protesters chanted "Free political prisoners!" outside Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race Streets, where most of those arrested were being held, Police Commissioner John F. Timoney characterized those arrested as "hell-bent on causing disruption."
With many of the more antagonistic demonstrators and organizers behind bars, stripped of the cell phones they have used to discuss tactics, the city was busy but relatively serene on the third full day of the Republican National Convention, a day marked by a series of peaceful demonstrations downtown. There were rallies for and against abortion, for women's rights, against Citibank, for marijuana, and against homosexuality. Death-penalty opponents shadowed Texas Gov. George W. Bush as he made campaign appearances in Center City.
Police said that they arrested 50 additional protesters between midnight and 6 a.m. yesterday, most in incidents stemming from Tuesday's confrontations.
The antagonists in this urban drama - police and city officials on one side, and protesters and their attorneys on the other - appeared to pause yesterday to reassess their strategies. They staged dueling news conferences as a series of peaceful demonstrations played out across a city recovering from running street battles the night before.
Attorneys for protesters accused authorities of delaying arraignments and assessing prohibitively high bails - $25,000 to $50,000 - to keep protesters jailed until the end of the convention tonight. It appeared that most demonstrators keen on being arrested had already managed to do so. Yesterday's arrests bring the total since Monday to 345.
Police said that many of those arrested refused to give their names, and that some stripped off their clothes and tossed food and feces from their cells.
Timoney said that at least 16 police officers were injured Tuesday - three seriously - by demonstrators, who damaged 23 police cars and five other city vehicles.
Timoney, who sustained scrapes and bruises during a scuffle with protesters, said one officer was slashed with a knife and another suffered a broken arm.
Mayor Street made a distinction between protesters who staged peaceful rallies Sunday and Monday and the bands who were "on a different kind of mission" Tuesday.
"What we experienced yesterday [Tuesday] was a certain sort of guerrilla warfare, a certain kind of terrorism that was calculated to completely disrupt and bring this city to a standstill," Street told reporters last night.
Those arrested Tuesday and early yesterday for blocking streets or allegedly destroying property face charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, obstructing justice, and obstructing a highway.
In the basement cell block at Police Headquarters, some of those arrested said they had not been allowed to see their attorneys, and had suffered bruises and cuts on their wrists from being handcuffed for several hours.
The lockup reverberated with protesters singing and chanting, "Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer!" Some made puppets from cardboard iced-tea containers.
In an interview on a pay phone in the lockup, a 19-year-old Temple University student who gave her name as "Joyful" said many protesters were showing solidarity by refusing to divulge their names to authorities.
Another demonstrator, Robyn Stephens, 25, a college student, said some protesters had removed their clothes because they had been told that police would not abuse naked prisoners. She said she had not eaten or slept since Tuesday.
"I'm vegan," she said. "I don't eat animal products. I've been offered a cheese sandwich."
Protest leaders last night said that 140 prisoners were on a hunger strike.
Attorney David Rudovsky said about 150 protesters continued to refuse to identify themselves.
But police and prosecutors said that such tactics caused undue delays in processing suspects and helped ensure that they would stay in jail longer.
Arraignments got under way just before 5 p.m yesterday in a cramped, gloomy auditorium inside Police Headquarters, where protesters were hauled out in plastic handcuffs to appear before Bail Commissioner Frank Rebstock. Some stood clutching their waistbands because their belts had been confiscated.
Under federal law, a defendant must be arraigned within 48 hours.
Outside the building, 150 to 200 protesters kept up a noisy vigil. They banged on bongos and coffee cans, marched around the building with a police escort, and chanted, "Free the puppets" - a sardonic reference to large puppets destroyed by police during a raid on a warehouse in West Philadelphia on Tuesday.
About 70 people arrested during that raid and 19 arrested in a van that had left the warehouse face charges of possession of an instrument of crime and other offenses. Police said they confiscated chains, wire mesh and PVC pipe intended for use in building illegal street barricades.
Several protesters were expected to be charged last night with felony assault on an officer. Prosecutors said they would seek $100,000 bail.
Protest leaders last night said that the courts had been placing "extraordinarily high" bail requirements on those arrested.
"What we are seeing in Philadelphia is a civil-rights catastrophe of the first order," said Ronald McGuire, an attorney with the R2K legal collective. R2K is the umbrella group for the protesters.
They also complained bitterly that police, far from behaving admirably, have been high-handed and have been harassing the protesters.
In seeking $25,000 and $50,000 bail for most of the protesters, prosecutors said they wanted to ensure that the defendants appeared for trial.
"The bail is set high enough that they could be in with violent criminals," Assistant District Attorney Audra Albright said. "I don't know how they're going to separate them."
Some of the protesters can expect long jail sentences if found guilty, prosecutors said.
Timoney said he would ask the U.S. Justice Department to consider using federal racketeering laws to prosecute protesters who move from city to city and cause violent disruptions during major events such as the Republican convention.
Stefan Presser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said police acted properly in arresting demonstrators who destroyed property, attacked police and blocked roads.
But he said the 70 people arrested at the warehouse did not appear to have broken any laws.
"There are some people in prison tonight who are innocent and have been deprived of the most important value in this society - which is liberty," Presser said.
He said he expected that charges eventually would be dropped against the 70, and that the ACLU would back the protesters if they decided to sue the city.
Later, Mayor Street said he "fully expected" the city to be sued.
"But we expect that we will defend the city. . . . We will defend our police department," to the Supreme Court if necessary, he said.
When the convention ends, Street said, "we are going to start gearing up to go for the Democratic convention four years from now, because I believe this has been a great experience, to date, for this city."
In the meantime, the city will continue to take preemptive measures. Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Ed McLaughlin, for example, said crews would begin moving unsecured items such as Dumpsters and newspaper honor boxes from city streets as a precaution against further vandalism by protesters.
Outside Police Headquarters, protesters who had spent the afternoon demanding their compatriots' release decided to spend the night in Franklin Square across Race Street.
Police first said that protesters could not spend the night in the park, but they later reversed themselves and also agreed to provide them with drinking water and portable toilets.
Jody Dodd, a member of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group who served as a liaison between police and protesters, said: "It was a smart thing to do. We told them if they came over and started arresting people, there'd be a lot of pissed-off people. And they've already seen what a lot of pissed-off people can do."
By nightfall, the crowd in the park had thinned to about 75.
As the protesters drifted away from the park, Deputy Commissioner Robert Mitchell said they appeared drained and worn.
"They're flat as pancakes," he said.
David Zucchino's e-mail address is dzucchino at phillynews.com
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