Know the enemy and know yourself and you can win a hundred battles

RNC: Preparations for a Clampdown

Revolutionary Worker #1063, July 23, 2000

When the Republican National Convention meets in Philadelphia, July 30 to August 3-to nominate the Texas executioner and total imperialistic dog George W. Bush-tens of thousands of people from around the country will be in the streets fighting for a different future. Some are coming to oppose corporate greed, others to expose the criminal injustice system and the attempts of the state to execute political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, others to focus attention on the problems of homelessness and hunger- and the many other injustices of this society.

And anyone who had just arrived from another planet would only need to look at the massive police mobilization underway in Philadelphia to see that the whole political process in this election season is profoundly against the interests of the masses of people. Local and federal police have been preparing for months to suppress the protests, spy on the protesters, violate their political rights, round them up and brutalize them. And the protesters will need bravery, creativity, vigilance, and perseverance to defy, expose, and outwit this army of official thugs.

But in a perverse sort of way, it is also a sign of "progress" that imperialist representatives cannot congregate in the U.S. without turning their meeting ground into a police state - because they fear a repeat of the embarrassing days in Seattle when protesters stole the headlines and the brutishness of the system was on display around the world. As the power structure and their enforcers prepare for the convention in Philadelphia, the specter of Seattle haunts them. They have analyzed the protests in Seattle and Washington, DC that disrupted conferences on World Trade, World Bank and IMF-and they plan to apply what they've learned to try and suppress opposition in the streets of Philadelphia. Deputy Police Commissioner Robert Mitchell said: "This incident in Seattle just caused us to rethink everything that we were doing. We thought, 'My God, what would happen if that happened here?'"

Members of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) were at the Seattle and Washington, DC protests to observe the protesters and their tactics. Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney praised the Washington Police Department for their work - in which they used pepper spray and beat people with riot sticks to disperse protesters. The Associated Press reported: "Timoney pledged that police won't use chemical sprays on protesters unless they force police into major physical confrontations. He added that police are closely monitoring those specific groups planning to disrupt the convention." Timoney is in close consultation with the FBI and Justice Department about the protests.

Political Police Spying

The authorities are attempting to identify leaders and gather information that could be used in a preemptive strike to arrest and detain activists before the protests even begin - which they did in Washington, DC and before a May 1st demonstration in New York City. The FBI and the Secret Service told the Associated Press they are gathering information about protest organizers, and both the FBI and the PPD have admitted publicly they are monitoring Internet chat groups and e-mail for protest intelligence and plans. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that an FBI agent named Thomas Dowd said protesters could be arrested before the protests began- "it depended on whether officials thought that protesters intended to break a law."

Law enforcement officials have been openly spying on organizers of the protests. Members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union reported that a police van has been parked in front of their offices for more than a month. A member of Training for Change told listeners of the radio program "All Things Considered" that police have started to arrest political activists in Philadelphia on minor charges. A member of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group told the Philadelphia Inquirer that well dressed people have been seen rifling through activists' garbage in front of their houses. FBI agent Tom Harrington said: "There is a good deal of intelligence gathering going on. There's no doubt about it....We're trying to be prepared." PPD Deputy Police Commissioner Mitchell said the trick to preventing civil disorder is "to make sure you get the right people, you know, the key layers that are involved, the leadership."

A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who attended an organizing meeting that was advertised on the Internet wrote: "Unidentified men with cameras have been seen openly watching and photographing at least five protest meetings in the last month." The meetings were held at the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a group that is helping the Philadelphia Direct Action Group, one of the main coalitions sponsoring the protests at the convention. The cops were stationed on a rooftop across from the building where the meeting was held. Local police deny they are involved and the FBI has refused to comment.

Brutality Training

The Philadelphia police are receiving special training from the FBI and the Justice Department in how to deal with likely protest scenarios. This includes such things as instruction on "preferred" spots to hit people with their clubs. Philadelphia police have been allotted $5 million for policing just before and during the convention. (The Pennsylvania State Police earlier this year requested $555 million for their budget, which included 3,950 riot helmets and 1,250 bulletproof vests.)

Court officials in Philadelphia will shut down many court services during the convention to free up more police. Vacations have been cancelled and cops will work 12-hour shifts. Local and state police have been placed on alert or called in from Philadelphia's suburbs, Washington, DC, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Police from 35 states will guard 35 Republican governors attending the convention.

Media reports indicate that many different police agencies will be involved in an operation that will be headed up by a 16-member executive committee of local, state and federal law enforcement, including the FBI, Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. The FBI agent who heads up the Philadelphia office told the press, "Virtually every resource that the FBI has available will be put into play." Media reports say the FBI will bring in specialists in terrorism and hazardous materials and computers that will "be linked with the bureau's Special Intelligence Operations Center in Washington."

There will be uniformed cops on nearly every street corner in downtown Philadelphia. Plainclothes cops will mingle with protesters. Rooftops and back exits of hotels and restaurants are being checked. There are plans to weld manhole covers shut around hotels and meeting halls. State police will be posted at delegates' hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. There will be patrols on the Delaware River. Authorities may create a no fly zone over the convention center. Philadelphia International Airport has "upgraded" security in its baggage claim areas. Metal boxes that dispense newspapers on the streets may be removed so protesters can't use them as "instruments of destruction."

Repening the Dungeon

The authorities are clearly preparing for mass arrests. Authorities have recently announced they will open up the condemned 99-year-old maximum security Holmesburg Prison to hold people arrested. The prison was closed in 1995 but is still maintained for filmmakers who need "dungeon-like settings" for their films. Those arrested by federal authorities will be taken to the new Federal Detention Center in Center City. Buses from the state Department of Corrections are being lined up to transport people arrested. People who can't afford the $150 a night plus price for a hotel room in the city have been put on notice that if they sleep on city streets or in parks they will be removed.

The Philadelphia City Council recently passed a law making it illegal to wear masks-this would enable police to sweep up groups of youth with masks on their face or anyone with a gas masks to protect themself from tear gas or pepper spray. The Inquirer reported police are circulating a sheet to "Philadelphia-area security officials" asking them to notify the PPD if there "is a significant increase in the population of predominantly young white males and females in a particular area, especially those who dress in rag-tag clothing and dye their hair in multi-colors." Mobile units are being readied that will be deployed to "trouble spots" during the convention.

The FBI is threatening that protesters arrested for violence could be brought up on federal charges - a first for the agency at political conventions. This gross violation of people's civil rights would be carried out under the rubric of charging people with "infringing interstate commerce" or "violating the civil rights of delegates."

Meanwhile, the authorities are waging a public opinion campaign to portray the protesters as "terrorists." There have been news reports about preparations for bombs, biological and chemical weapons. Several hundred FBI agents and other law enforcement officials held a maneuver this spring called "Stolen Liberty," supposedly to test how they should respond in the event a terrorist took a public official hostage. It was put forward in the media as "an exercise to prepare for terrorism or other activities during the Republican Convention." News stories worry that activists may be "infiltrating" the convention by volunteering to work there so that they can be in position to help protesters disrupt the proceedings.

For their part, the protesters are preparing to meet the challenge thrown down by the authorities. The authorities wanted to corral all protests into a so-called "free speech zone" a mile away from the convention center - a 40' by 190' area that will be surrounded by police and in which each group would have 50 minutes to speak. Meanwhile, the organizers of the Republican convention were given space at the largest and most centrally located parks and gathering spots - in addition to the 24-7 media coverage planned for the convention itself. Outraged activists immediately dubbed the "free speech zone" the "censorship zone" or the "protest pit" and most have refused to go anywhere near it. Several organizations who have been denied permits have announced they will march without them.

The whole world will be watching.


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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