Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, August 8, 2016
Learning how to protest peacefully at the Democratic National Convention
Posted Jul 14, 2016
Recent lessons in a Philadelphia church revolved around three “Rs” -- Recording, Readiness and Resistance.
About 50 people learned how they can protect themselves in police confrontations as part of a series of civil rights education sessions emphasizing nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience for protesters at the Democratic National Convention, which runs from July 25 to 28 in the city.
Mayor Jim Kenney's office expects 35,000 to 50,000 people to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly every day during the DNC, which will occur just weeks after five white police officers were killed during a Dallas march against police brutality that was held days after two fatal shootings of black men by police.
Members of Up Against the Law role play arrests
Area civil rights supporters say the recent social unrest in the nation drives home the necessity of preparing protesters for all possible situations in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of the 2000 Republican National Convention, when more than 400 protesters were arrested in the city. Most were later acquitted of all charges.
“I don’t think we can predict (what will happen). There is this sense there are going to be a lot of people,” said the Rev. Robin Hynicka, pastor of the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City, which is hosting the free training sessions leading up to the convention.
“There is really a rising level of discontent with our democratic institutions," Hynicka added. "What happens in the streets might be more important than what happens in South Philly (at the Wells Fargo Center, where the DNC will occur).”
Jody Dodd, founder of Up Against the Law, a legal collective that will represent DNC protesters, said, "What we all want is to be effective. The strategy of nonviolence can be a very effective strategy.”
At the first know-your-rights session Saturday, trainers talked to participants about topics ranging from videotaping confrontations to what to expect if you're arrested or detained:
Readiness: Know where you can gather legally. Gathering outside public buildings, landmarks or the street are allowed, but blocking sidewalks, entrances or traffic is a no-no. Government-owned parks and public areas are subject to curfew restrictions and Philadelphia officials have said they won't allow camping at FDR Park, the official "protest zone."
Resistance: What to expect in police confrontations. Individuals don't have to produce government-issued ID to police, but they must give their legal name and date of birth. If you refuse to give police your identity, you can be detained for 48 hours without being charged. If you're arrested, immediately request a lawyer. Don't agitate the police.
Recording: Keep a safe distance if you videotape a confrontation. Videotaping people without their permission is allowed in public places. However, the law prohibits just audio recording someone without their permission. Immediately upload any video to private social media accounts so it can be retrieved if your phone or camera is confiscated.
In response to a question at the Saturday session about whether a a police officer can legally confiscate a cellphone or camera, attendees were told no. But, but it's a common practice because an officer can claim the protester's action were interfering with an arrest, trainer Anya Fox said.
"Philadelphia does not have the best record in dealing with protesters," she added.
Fox also emphasized that racial minorities should be extra vigilant.
“You need to verbalize every action you are going to do in front of the officer,” she said, adding, “Every single police officer in this country is armed with something that can kill you.”
Participants at the first training were a mix of young people with colorful hair, facial piercings and Bernie Sanders T-shirts and older folks like Janet Horowitz, a 51-year-old Philadelphia woman. She said she plans to participate in the Bernie or Bust movement during the convention, but expressed reservations after hearing speakers talk about possible police action.
Kenney’s office says 10 city-issued demonstration permits have been approved, mostly for events involving former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders, who conceded to presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
Another 16 applications for protest permits are pending, the mayor's office said, including one from the controversial conservative Westboro Baptist Church. Members of the Topeka, Kansas, church demonstrate at the funerals of members of the military and have been vocal in their opposition to gays and same-sex marriage, among other social issues.
The city’s main “protest zone” is at FDR Park in South Philadelphia, which is west of the athletic complex. This is also where the protest zone was for the 2000 RNC.
The National Park Service has issued at least 17 First Amendment protest permits during DNC week, starting July 23. A rally for Sanders is scheduled on that day. Sanders' supporters have scheduled five rallies in Independence National Historic Park and plan a July 25 march from the park to the Wells Fargo Center.
“I’m very concerned right now (that) anyone is fair game,” Horowitz said at the weekend civil rights information session. “I’m feeling like it’s highly likely, after this presentation, that I could be arrested.”
Ross Miller, a Montgomery County lawyer and former Upper Makefield resident, said: “I think the police are going to be extremely cautious,” but added, “When tensions flare ... it’s hard to say what people are going to do.”
Miller, whose firm has offices in Lansdale and Newtown Township, is among 35 private defense attorneys with a civil rights background who have volunteered to provide free legal representation to protesters who are arrested during the convention. The legal team was organized by Up Against the Law, a Philadelphia legal collective whose attorney members represented protesters during the 2000 RNC.
Miller didn't represent protesters 16 years ago. And like the other attorney volunteers, he isn't formally associated with any protest group. While he hopes for calm during the convention, he called it foolish to not anticipate a high potential for “very tense” encounters between police and protesters.
Among Miller’s biggest concerns the fact that Philadelphia has purchased lawsuit liability insurance to cover potential claims of police misconduct and other civil rights violations that could arise during the convention. He said that could send the wrong message to police regarding their conduct with protesters. Such insurance isn't unusual for large events. Cleveland, the host city for next week’s RNC, obtained a $10 million liability insurance policy.
Philadelphia has a long history of arresting protesters, Miller and others said. Earlier this year, the city settled lawsuits filed by protesters during the 2011 Occupy camp-out demonstration outside City Hall. Those suits were filed by protesters who alleged police violated their rights.
Dodd is hopeful there won’t be the mass arrests that occurred during the city's last political convention.
“I’m hoping for everyone’s sake,” she said. “We just don’t know. All we can do is have people be as prepared as possible to responsibly deal with whatever may come at them.”
The Philadelphia Police Department isn't holding any special training involving protesters prior to the DNC, a city police spokesman said.
The DNC is likely to be a test of the city's new civil citations protocol that aims to fine protesters rather than arresting them for nuisance violations. Under the protocol, police have the option to issue protesters a civil summary citation for acts like blocking a highway, disorderly conduct or failure to disperse. Kenney and other city officials have said they believe the citations will result in fewer arrests during the convention.
The first dozen citations were issued Wednesday following a “Black Lives Matter” protest, one of several held in Philadelphia following the police-involved fatal shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, said Dodd. Those protesters were cited and released, according to the police spokesman.
The civil citations have raised other legal questions and there are no answers yet, Dodd told potential protesters during the civil rights training session. For example, if a protester accepts a citation, does it mean the police officer has met the burden of proof, which is lower for civil offenses?
Defense attorney Miller also noted the citations will still allow police to detain protesters and breakup lawful gatherings.
“My concern is that is not as all rosy as it appears,” he added.
What to know if you plan to attend protests in Philadelphia during the DNC
1. During a pat down, a police officer can only pat down the outside of your clothing and only reach inside a pocket if something is "immediately apparent" as contraband.
2. Protesters don't have to produce government-issued identification if the police ask for it, but they do have to give police their legal name and date of birth.
3. If you're arrested and want to remain silent, you must assert your right to do so. If you start speaking, then want to stop, you must reassert your right to remain silent. Immediately request an attorney.
4. If you're stopped by police, ask if you're being detained. If the answer is no, move along. If the answer is yes, ask why you're being arrested.
5. Police can legally detain someone for 48 hours without filing charges if the person refuses to identify himself or herself.
6. When recording police interacting with or confronting protesters, don't agitate the police and keep a safe distance away from the action. It is legal to record the police in public places, but your phone may be confiscated for interfering with an arrest.
7. You can videotape people without their permission when they're in public places.
8. Immediately upload video to private social media accounts, so it can be retrieved if your camera is confiscated.
9. Protesting or gathering outside a public building, a landmark or a street is permitted, but you cannot block the sidewalk, entrance or traffic.
10. Government-owned parks are subject to curfew restrictions, meaning you cannot pitch tents there. Philadelphia has said it won't allow camping at FDR Park, the location of the "protest zone."
11. Up Against the Wall and the the Philadelphia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will have legal observers attending protests to document police and protester behaviors and interactions. Legal observers will be wearing T-shirts that identify them.
12. Don’t say anything on a public social media account that you aren't comfortable saying in front of a judge.
The legal collective, Up Against The Law, has posted its training online and it will run a hotline (484-758-0388) that protesters who get arrested can call for help.