Protests Turn Violent in Philadelphia

Protests Turn Violent in Philadelphia
Posted by FoM on August 01, 2000 at 21:42:00 PT
By David Montgomery & Cathy Newman
Source: Washington Post 
A few thousand protesters stormed through Center City today, battling police officers, chaining themselves together to block intersections, jumping on cars and throwing debris into the street, as anger erupted after three days of more lighthearted demonstrations in the city hosting the Republican National Convention. Police said they arrested 282 people. Three police officers were treated when an unknown substance was splashed in their eyes, and a fourth was hospitalized with head injuries after being hit with a bicycle. Twenty police cars were damaged.
The tone of a day that began with calm speeches against the "prison industrial complex" suddenly grew tense around 3 p.m. From all directions, demonstrators  dressed in styles ranging from clown costumes to all-black anarchist regalia  converged in the blocks around the ornate City Hall topped by a statue of the peace-loving Quaker William Penn.Most were peaceful, if unlawful, as they squatted in intersections, while others threw a red paint balloon at a jewelry store, daubed police cars with orange paint and tossed newspaper boxes at motorists commuting at rush hour. An unruly climax was reached in late afternoon, when about 150 protesters sprinted up Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 18th Street, with police on horses and bicycles in pursuit.The bicycle police dismounted and, using batons, tackled and arrested several young men of the so-called anarchist Black Bloc., Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said he was assaulted during the scuffle when a demonstrator grabbed the commissioner's bicycle and struck him with it."Anybody who makes the case that these were peaceful protesters bent on exercising their First Amendment rights should have their head examined," Timoney said.In several cases, the arresting officers wore black gloves with the white Nike swoosh on them. "We know who you work for," jeered the demonstrators, as their linked arms were pried apart by police clearing the intersections.Scattered demonstrations and arrests continued into the night. Earlier, a Reuters reporter was detained by police when they stopped a van carrying 19 demonstrators whom the reporter was chronicling. The van contained plastic pipe and chicken wire, devices that can be used to create "lock boxes" to chain protesters together. He was released later without being charged.Mayor John Street praised police: "They did a fantastic job keeping this city moving and operating under difficult circumstances."With scores of reporters following protesters' moves through the streets, organizers said they achieved their goal of calling attention to a variety of issues that all spring from a well of outrage over what they say is the dominance of corporations in American politics."We feel like today we've achieved success," said Justin Ruben, an organizer with the R2K Network, the coalition of various protest groups. "We've been able to speak to the whole country. People are coming together."Protesters also caused slight disruption to the GOP convention, which continued in a hall nearly four miles south after most of the demonstrations had concluded. The Pennsylvania delegation and others were trapped inside a Center City hotel a few hours before the convention. "It's ridiculous," state Rep. John Barley of Lancaster told the Associated Press. "Giving them that kind of attention is unreasonable," he said. "Let's do something about it. We're captive."Demonstrators said civil disobedience is the only way to earn a spotlight for their concerns."The Republicans and Democrats don't represent working people," said Mario Rodriguez, 22, a union organizer from New York City, who was blockading the entrance ramp to Interstate 676, one of the routes from Center City to the First Union Center, the convention hall in south Philadelphia. "I felt if we blocked off the highways, it will call enough attention and maybe they'll listen."Standing with arms linked near Rodriguez in the human chain was Jeff Ebbesen, an adjunct professor of English from Philadelphia, who said he was there because he wanted to show that someone like him  "a white man, 38 years old, married, firmly entrenched in the middle class"  is angry enough at economic inequality in the country to get himself arrested.And beside Ebbesen, who declined to say where he teaches, was Erik Stowers, 27, a struggling novelist from Brooklyn, who said, "I've known I had to do something for a long time. . . . It defines whether you're willing to suffer at all for your values."Around 4 p.m., demonstrators formed a human chain across Broad Street, the city's main thoroughfare, near City Hall. Within half an hour, police started to unpeel the blockaders one by one.The protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching," as one police officer hit a member of the chain with his baton.A ragtag band of protesters split off from the main group and started hurling newspaper vending machines into traffic. One woman, trying to get home, shouted bitterly at them, and with tears streaming down her face, she dragged the vending machines off the street.Lost, perhaps, in the shouting and unrest were some of the nuances of the demonstrators' complaints about the country. In a packed schedule of protests for the week, each day has a theme, and today was devoted to the death penalty, prison-building, death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and other facets of the justice system.Bush, as governor of Texas, has "put to death more people than any other person alive in our country today," charged Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953.At the same news conference where Meeropol spoke, Jesse L. Jackson said that "Texas has taken on serial killer proportions," with 139 executions during Bush's term.Earlier, Jackson attended the "Shadow Convention," an alternative forum for debate being held nearby, where the sentiments of the street activists against the criminal justice system were echoed by the more mainstream protesters.Jackson railed against the country's "ugly, shameful, jail-industrial complex," and complained about inequities in the system. "If you're young, poor and brown or black and don't have a lawyer, youthful indiscretions are not forgivable sins," he said, alluding to Bush's comment about his own youthful behavior.Eleven-year-old Nicholas Pecora, of Brooklyn, was presented at the convention as a reminder of the havoc that prison sentences can wreak on the families of those jailed. His mother is in jail, and he and his younger brother and sister are being raised on welfare by his grandmother."My daughter was such a bad crack addict," said Doreen Pecora, who brought her grandchildren on stage at the shadow convention, along with other families calling for an end to harsh mandatory sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders. "She didn't need 10-to-life, she needed help."Special correspondents Steve Fox and Debbie Goldberg contributed to this report.Contact: letterstoed Feedback: David Montgomery and Cathy NewmanWashington Post Staff WritersPublished: Wednesday, August 2, 2000; Page A22  2000 The Washington Post Company Related Articles & Web Sites:The Shadow Conventions Conventions Convention 2000 News Board Articles On The Shadow Conventions: CannabisNews Articles On The Shadow Conventions: 
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