What's going on in Philadelphia right now is a civil rights catastrophe the
magnitude of which is difficult to express in words. As I'm writing this,
two well known activists are being held on 1 million dollars bail each. Both
were picked up while walking down the street during the recent protests
against the Republican National Convention. Others arrested have bails set
as high as 500,000 dollars. Most of the 341 protesters still incarcerated,
whose charges range from obstructing a highway to disorderly conduct, have
bails set in excess of 10,000 dollars. These are the highest bails on record
in the US for these charges. Needless to say, most cannot afford these bails
and are practicing jail solidarity (refusing to give their names in order to
get demands for fair treatment met) regardless. Almost all have been moved
to county prisons at this point. In a country that prides itself on freedom
of expression and assembly, they are political prisoners. There is simply no
As I'm writing this, reports of intimidation, abuse and torture continue to
pour in from the jails. Prisoners in custody up to 80 or more hours before
being allowed a phone call or access to a lawyer. Prisoners being denied
food and water, kept in sweltering buses until they went into heat stroke,
prisoners denied life saving medication (including meds for HIV, asthma and
epilepsy), prisoners with broken wrists or hands, torn ears, chipped teeth,
abused genitals. This isn't a laundry list of horror stories. This is a
list of testimonies I've heard personally, from the mouths of those it
happened to or their friends. People red-faced, stunned, grieving. These
are people I--and probably you--know. This is real. This is happening right
The police have isolated people they see as "leaders" for interrogation and
exorbitant bails. Many have not been able to meet with lawyers. A friend of
mine, a puppeteer from Austin TX, was detained by police before the protests
began. This occurred outside the Haverford puppet space during the raid that
destroyed nearly all the signs and props people had been building to
communicate their messages during the demonstration. The puppets have since
been out through an industrial shredder and my friend is being held on seven
misdemeanor charges, for 250,000 dollars bail. Dozens of others, arrested
miles from the demonstrations in the puppet warehouse, are still in jail on
charges ranging from "conspiracy" to "obstructing a highway." The highest
prison term being mentioned so far is 20-40 years, attached to a person
accused of assaulting Commissioner Timoney. In addition to going after the
puppets, police systematically picked off and arrested those with cell phones
or radios the day of the action. Other "organizers" were weeded out of
milling crowds, police having identified them by previously taken photos.
The state and federal governments are attempting to break the back of this
movement and it has what seems to be unlimited resources to do so. For
months before the protests, police presence near activist spaces and
surveillance of activists has been extreme. They tapped phones, photographed
the house I was staying in, send operatives into deep cover to befriend us
and utilized a nationwide network of intelligence information to acquire
knowledge about our movements as we were deciding these things ourselves.
All this for a group of non-violent people planning to block traffic!
Obviously, the resources delegated to stopping and punishing the protesters
are there not for what we did but for why we did it.
And why is that? Ironically, the day most of the 455 protesters were taken
in was themed The Criminal In-Justice system, with rallies and direct actions
planned to call attention to the growing private prison system and the
disproportionate number of poor people and people of color in the jails and
on death row. I could restate the statistics but we all know them by heart.
The politicians know them and the people on the street know them. The racist,
classist prison system is part of our national heritage and national shame,
something every American but the 2 million behind bars is complicit in
allowing to continue.
The messages are simple, yet members of the mainstream press claimed they
didn't understand. They called the message obscure, while thousands of police
with batons and plastic cuffs stood in stony formation at city
intersections. Demands for an end to police brutality became more and more
clear as instances of police violence broke out towards the end of the day.
I saw on the local news that police did "nothing more than yell at
protesters" and were "a model of restraint." But I also saw a girl go down
after taking a baton in the leg. And I saw my friend's broken thumb, bent
back by two other hands simply because no one was there to record it.
I remember marching from the jail Wednesday night in the rain. The wicks on
our red candles had gone wet and black, the media had almost all left.
Hundreds of cops cordoned off the hundred and fifty members of the vigil, one
at the front with a rifle out, its muzzle pointed cattycorner to our thighs.
I was walking with a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, telling her
what I'd seen, telling her that people were being hurt. She said, "I know.
But if we can't verify it, we can't print it." The ink on her pad was
smeared and illegible, the paper soaked and translucent. Together we crossed
the line off that rifle with our breath in our throats. My fingers had gone
numb, my intestines icy, my mouth frozen open in evaporated song. I looked
around and all I saw was policemen after policemen, a sea of powder blue
shirts and shiny chrome bicycles. All I saw was the muzzle of that rifle and
what it meant. I had the sense of history demanding something of me and
every other person at that jail, in Philadelphia and in this country. I had
the sense of incredible loss. And I knew that it didn't matter because no one
was writing it down.
We need help. At the rallies outside the jail, people chanted "The whole
world is watching." But it often felt like no one was. While isolated
members of the press have worked hard to provide objective coverage, for the
most part the media has been biased against us to the point of criminal
negligence. This shouldn't surprise me. Newspapers and television stations
are powered by and exist to serve the same corporations we in the streets
hoped to unmask. Still, I am surprised. Surprised because after all these
companies are staffed by people, by human beings I assume have a sense of
empathy, responsibility and justice, if not simple horror at the idea of a
world without first amendment freedoms. Ditto for the cops. Each man and
woman in uniform in Philadelphia has seen this group of people (not to
mention the many other groups who have faced and continue to face much worse)
systematically vilified and abused. Don't they understand tomorrow it could
be them? That (for many of them) it has been and continues to be them? I
can only hope that everyone involved in the brave new police state I see
cropping up all around me realizes their complicity in the situation and the
power they have to stop it.
The whole world is not watching. People's lives are being destroyed.
Incredible people: community organizers, gardeners, writers, dancers. The
people I know behind bars cook food for the homeless, publish magazines,
build bikes for kids. I have never seen or heard of any engaging in an act
of violence. They are carpenters. Most would rather build an alternative
physical or economic structure than break the window of an existing one.
Which is exactly what makes them so threatening.
The world is not watching, and it needs to be. The press is not watching.
It hasn't been for a long, long time. The convention is over but the abuse
it still happening. Over three hundred people are in jail tonight in
Philadelphia as part of what can only be described as a coordinated act of
political repression. Thousands of demonstrators have been portrayed as
dangerous criminals for continuing a tradition of civil disobedience passed
on to us from Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. They join the millions of
other Americans serving time for non-violent offenses in US jails, and the
tens of millions in communities of color who are systematically terrorized
with state surveillance and police violence. This is a crucial moment for
anyone who considers him or herself free. As a friend put it
yesterday--after we were followed and photographed yet again by a
plainclothes policemen: "this is the first page in a very big book."
* Write letters to your local newspaper and television stations. Demand
coverage of the situation in Philadelphia and the demonstrators still in
* Write to national media such as the NY Times and cnn.com, demanding the
full story on continuing human rights violations.
* Go to the Philadelphia Inquirer
and Philadelphia Tribune
And respond to them about thier coverage.
* Call District Attorney Lynn Abraham at 215-686-8701 and Mayor John Street
(who has stated that Philly will throw the book at protesters) at
215-686-2181. Let the Mayor know that while Police Commissioner John Timoney
is riding high in the press right now, Street had better distance himself
from the monster before the full story about systematic physical torture and
civil rights abuses reaches the public.
*Hook up with the Moms for Justice by emailing your name, phone and email to
Sue Mammarella at email@example.com or Carolyn McGuckin-Robinson at
*** Make a tax-deductable and urgently needed donation to the PDAG
(Philadelphia Direct Action Group) Legal and Bail Fund by sending checks
payable to "ISMCH" to PDAG/ PO Box 40683/ Philadelphia, PA 19107. Please put
"legal fund" on the memo line.***
* Read the statement by the John Does at CFCS
Write prisoners in jail as the addresses become available over the
* Read the LA Times Article on Upcoming DNC Protests
Write them on thier coverage, let them know how important the press will be
at the DNC protests and urge them to give critical focus on the issues people
are demonstrating about.
* Forward this or more concise info from the links listed to everyone you
know, espeically those who might be willing to help, or who might have money
to contribute to the bail fund.