By Joellen Perry
Friday, August 4
As George W. Bush officially took up the mantle of his father's party this week, the Philadelphia that hosted him was a kinder, gentler place than many had expected. Police and citizens fearing replays of the violent protests that marked Seattle's World Trade Organization meeting in March instead saw four days of peaceful demonstrations and just a few hours of relative chaos on Tuesday.
Much of the credit for keeping the peace goes to unprecedented cooperation between protest groups and police. Department officials were on the phone nearly every night, for instance, with Cheri Honkala, executive director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, before they walked hand-in-hand with participants in the unpermitted but entirely peaceful 3.5-mile march from Philadelphia's City Hall to the First Union Center. Months of police department training-which included watching videos of police protest tactics in Seattle and Washington, D.C., as well as lessons on building the now famous bicycle barricades-also paid off as most officers stood, stone-faced, in the face of taunts from protesters during Tuesday's melee. "During the demonstrations of civil disobedience, the police handled themselves with remarkable restraint," says Larry Frankel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
But blood between police and protesters is not entirely good. An encampment of some 70 demonstrators still sits outside police headquarters at Seventh and Race streets, where at least 300 protesters remain imprisoned. The R2K Network, an informal coalition of groups organized to protest at the GOP convention, claims prisoners face uncommonly high bail-ranging from $15,000 to $30,000-for misdemeanor charges. And the police may have taken their strategy of plucking potential troublemakers from the protesters' ranks too far on Tuesday afternoon, when they reportedly raided a warehouse in West Philadelphia where protesters were making puppets for future demonstrations. "It's not clear to us yet whether they ever had evidence that these people were engaged in criminal activity. If not, the raid was a clear violation of their civil rights," says Frankel. Philadelphia police contend bails are high because protesters refuse to reveal their identity, and note that a judge signed off on a warrant to search the puppet-building workshop.
Ironically, the last demonstration the Philadelphia police monitored this week was one sponsored by some of their fellow city workers . Firefighters staged a 2,000-person march from their firehouse at Fifth and Willow to the Liberty Bell, protesting the fact that the city refuses to consider hepatitis C-which firefighters say they contract by coming into contact with infected clients while on the job--a job-related (and therefore workman's-compensation-covered) risk. Nearly 7 percent of the city's firefighters suffer from the debilitating disease; the national average is 1.8 percent. What do the firefighters have to say about how the men in blue handled the march? "We love these guys. They're like our family," says Stephen Hess, a city firefighter for 17 years. In fact, Hess's only regret is that, since so many cops were doing double duty on the streets, fewer could attend his rally-and the raucous "beer-and-beef" party that followed.