> Police Abuses Won't Stifle Protests
> by Mark Weisbrot
> "When protest becomes effective, governments become repressive."
> Tom Hayden summed it up in an axiom three decades ago, while
> describing his own trial on conspiracy charges for organizing
> protests against the Vietnam War.
> The Seattle protests last December knocked the millenium round of
> WTO negotiations out of commission, and demonstrators have faced
> increasingly hostile government actions ever since. This is
> especially true for those who have kept to their principles of
> non-violence and no destruction of property-- which includes
> almost everyone who showed up in Washington DC last April to
> protest the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and in
> Philadelphia last week for the Republican Convention.
> The city of Philadelphia upped the ante with the arrest last week
> of John Sellers on conspiracy charges, and the setting of bail--
> for misdemeanor charges-- at one million dollars. A higher court
> reduced the bail, which was more typical for a murder suspect than
> someone who is accused of conspiring to block traffic, to $100,000
> on Tuesday. But the message was clear.
> Sellers heads the Ruckus Society, a group that has trained
> activists in the techniques of non-violent civil disobedience. The
> group was instrumental in organizing both the Seattle and
> Washington, D.C. protests. He was apparently singled out not for
> anything he had done in Philadelphia, but for who he is. The use
> of special punishments on the basis of a person's political
> identity certainly contradicts the principle that we are "a nation
> of laws, not of men."
> Philadelphia is not alone. In Washington DC, the police went so
> far as to close down the meeting center of the organizations that
> were planning the protests. This was a flagrant violation of civil
> liberties more commonly seen in countries like Indonesia or Burma
> than in the United States. (Philadelphia police staged a similar,
> almost certainly illegal raid last week on a warehouse used for
> making puppets and other protest props, "preventively arresting"
> 70 people). Washington police also rounded up hundreds of people
> on the street one night, including some unlucky tourists, and
> launched "pre-emptive strikes" against people who looked like they
> might be on their way to a demonstration.
> Although there were some scuffles between police and a few
> protestors in Philadelphia, it is important to understand that
> police abuses have not been committed in response to violence or
> even property damage. In Seattle, for example, a handful of people
> on the fringes of the protests broke windows and overturned trash
> bins. But the police mostly ignored the window-breakers and let
> loose their tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on the
> thousands of peaceful demonstrators.
> It may seem inflated to compare these protests to the much larger
> demonstrations of the Vietnam era, but the Seattle and DC
> demonstrations were enormously effective. The WTO has yet to
> recover from the collapse of its millenium round, and last April's
> protests in Washington gave millions of Americans their first
> glimpse of the IMF and the World Bank. These two organizations
> head up a creditors' cartel that controls the major economic
> decisions for more than 60 countries. They are the most powerful
> financial institutions in the world, and they have relied on
> public unawareness for 55 years to maintain-- and regularly
> abuse-- their power.
> The protestors have solid moral authority for invoking the
> long-standing tradition of non-violent civil disobedience. Martin
> Luther King once compared such infractions to an ambulance going
> through a red light on its way to the hospital. The issues raised
> by the protestors certainly have the moral urgency that King was
> Fifteen million Africans have already died from AIDS, and our
> government's policies (together with the IMF, World Bank, and WTO)
> could cost the lives of millions more. Extracting the maximum debt
> service from these devastated countries, and protecting US patent
> holders from the spread of affordable, generic anti-AIDS drugs,
> appear to remain as these institutions top priorities.
> At home, we now have nearly two million prisoners languishing
> behind bars, hundreds of thousands convicted on drug charges for
> which no civilized society would incarcerate them.
> These are among the issues that the mostly young people whom
> Philadephia Police Commissioner John Timoney described as "a cadre
> of criminal conspirators" have sought to bring to public
> Million dollar bail, conspiracy charges, illegal raids, and police
> abuses are unlikely to be any more effective than tear gas and
> pepper spray in discouraging these protests. Nor will Mayor
> Street's threat to prosecute low grade misdemeanor charges "to the
> full extent of the law." He should take a lesson from Washington,
> DC and release the protesters still being held in Philadelphia's
> Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy
> Research in Washington, DC.
> Common Dreams NewsCenter is a non-profit news service
> providing breaking news and views for the Progressive Community.
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