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Outrage in Philadelphia! Philadelphia police shut down protest venue.

by By David Morgan (Reuters) Sunday, Jul. 23, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The Philadelphia police have violated basic civil rights by shutting down an R2k organizing space. This is obviously a tactic that the police are taking from the DC protest and will likely use in August.

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - With the Republican National Convention barely


week away, tensions between the city and protest organizers escalated on

Friday when building safety inspectors closed one of the protesters'


meeting venues.

Activists also claimed to find electronic listening devices in a group


hours after city police admitted they had been keeping protest


under surveillance for weeks.

``We're outraged, we're angry and we're going to talk about it. But

we're not

panicking,'' said Julie Davids, a member of the Philadelphia Direct


Group, a coalition planning civil disobedience protests for the July 31


Aug. 3 convention.

Members of the Spiral Q Puppet Theater said inspectors from the city

Department of Licenses and Inspections showed up at their premises with

police around 1 p.m. EDT and ordered them to close because of potential



Activists from two local groups, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and

Asian-Americans United, were using the theater as a venue for making


and banners for a protest march set to take place on opening day of the

convention, organizers said.

There was no immediate comment from city officials and no arrests were


Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was looking into


that listening devices were found after a burglary at an activist group


in West Philadelphia, where unidentified men had earlier been seen

photographing residents.

ACLU legal director Stefan Presser said he would find out if a court had

ordered audio surveillance. ``If not, I will take this matter and put it

before a federal judge,'' he told reporters.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, representing causes ranging from

environmental protection and AIDS research to women's rights and social

justice, are due in Philadelphia next weekend for what organizers say


be the largest protests seen at a U.S. political convention.

But Philadelphia officials worry that protest violence could hamper the

city's ability to showcase its economic and cultural renaissance after

decades of decline.

City police on Friday admitted that they have been keeping protest


under surveillance by photographing activists as they arrived for


sessions in another part of the city. A half-dozen such incidents have



``We were watching. We were making surveillance efforts. It's just


preparations for anything,'' said Officer David Yarnell, a department

spokesman. ``There are people who may do more than exercise their First

Amendment rights.''

The raid on the puppet theater took place as protest leaders met with


city officials, including the deputy commissioner in charge of policing


convention, to ask that out-of-town demonstrators be allowed to camp out


city parks.

Theater members said city inspectors complained of potential fire


posed by a propane tank, an extension cord that ran between two floors


the lack of an on-site

fire safety system.

But organizers condemned the shutdown as a preemptive strike by city

authorities intended to dissuade demonstrators from plans to disrupt the

Republican convention.
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