[sixties-l] Fwd: Police Abuses Won't Stifle Protests

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Aug 11 2000 - 22:24:14 CUT

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    > 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
    > describing.
    > 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
    > attention.
    > 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
    > jails.
    > 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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