ACLU Denounces Police Infiltration of Protest Groups at GOP Convention in Philadelphia

September 7, 2000 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today denounced the use of state police to infiltrate political activist groups that planned protests at last month’s Republican National Convention.

Evidence that such undercover tactics were used was disclosed yesterday when legal documents filed on August 1, 2000, were finally unsealed.

“Now we know why the prosecutors and police wanted to keep these documents secret,” said Larry Frankel, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “They are the most damning evidence of the highly questionable tactics used in Philadelphia to suppress First Amendment activities during the Republican National Convention.”

“We can now add this constitutionally suspect collaboration between the Philadelphia police and the state police to the list of disturbing abuses of the criminal justice system to intimidate protestors.”

Frankel noted that even before yesterday, “we had learned that the police had improperly spied on protest organizers. City building inspectors were used to shut down an activist studio in Center City. People who were arrested were subjected to unconscionable delays prior to being released. Extraordinarily high bail was set for many protestors.”

The information that was revealed yesterday was contained in the affidavit of probable cause used by the police to obtain a search warrant that led to the raid of the puppet warehouse at 4100 Haverford Avenue on August 1, 2000. That affidavit had been sealed at the special request of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

Stefan Presser, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania noted that the Philadelphia police are specifically barred from engaging in infiltration as a result of a 1987 mayoral order.

Explaining the dangers of such undercover operations, Presser said, “The First Amendment gives all individuals advocating for social change the right to be able to meet and plan without fearing that police are spying on them. The Bill of Rights, taken as a whole, surely guarantees that individuals may not be preventatively detained.”

“This is a matter deeply woven into the fabric of our society since the tragic preventative detention of Japanese Americans over half a century ago,” Presser added. “It is a sad commentary that Philadelphia, the origin of our Constitution, should have been the site of so many violations of protestors’ rights during the Republican National Convention.”

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