ACLU Criticizes Police Officials for Overreacting to Disruptions at Convention

August 7, 2000 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Pennsylvania
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PHILADELPHIA, PA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is extremely critical of how Police Commissioner John Timoney and District Attorney Lynne Abraham are overreacting to the disruptions and vandalism that occurred in Philadelphia on August 1, 2000.

While the ACLU does not condone the unlawful actions that occurred last week, we are greatly disturbed by the Commissioner’s call for a federal investigation. We are also troubled by the District Attorney’s seeking the court’s permission to seal critical legal documents while throwing the book at those who were arrested.

These official actions are particularly unsettling in light of the additional stories of abuse and brutality that have been brought to our attention over the weekend.

The ACLU believes that vandalizing property, turning over trash cans, assaulting persons and shutting down the city by blocking traffic are not activities protected by the First Amendment. However, they are not the kind of crimes that justify treating the defendants as if they were dangerous urban terrorists.

The ACLU is very worried that a federal investigation, as suggested by the Police Commissioner, could discourage many Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights. Calling for the federal government to prosecute those who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience could intimidate many people from participating in protests. Many Americans will be afraid that they will get caught up in a federal investigation.

The ACLU is also concerned that bail is being set at artificially high levels to keep protest leaders in detention until their date of trial, which will be after the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. The purpose of bail is to insure that a defendant will appear at trial. It is not intended to prevent a person from expressing his or her dissenting views.

Over the weekend, credible stories concerning serious injuries inflicted upon those who were arrested last week have been reported to the ACLU. We intend to review those incidents to determine whether, in fact, excessive force was used in the streets or prisons. We will also advise people to file complaints of police misconduct with the Police Advisory Commission.

Finally, we continue to believe that the seizure of the warehouse in West Philadelphia and the arrest of 70 individuals who were at that warehouse raise many questions. Last Friday’s orchestrated display of evidence did not resolve our doubts as to the legality of police actions against that warehouse. We still suspect that the seizure in West Philadelphia was an overbroad sweep of many individuals who had no intention of engaging in violent protest.

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