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GayWired.com: As LA Prepares for the DNC, Jailed R2K Protesters...

by shelaugh : ) Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000 at 1:21 PM
shelaugh@bigfoot.com

Important Local Coverage

this is the type of coverage possible when you work with independent minority journalists - shelaugh : )

As LA Prepares for the DNC, Jailed R2K Protesters Go on Hunger Strike Over Abuse and High Bail
by Karen Ocamb

The Democrats might be excited about the political ruckus presidential contender Al Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman will make during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles next week, but protesters, city officials and civil libertarians are extremely concerned about police reaction to the ruckus on the streets.

"Everybody is hunkering down," says openly gay Los Angeles City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg who tried to help protesters get a permit to demonstrate at famed Pershing Square. "It appears the police are preparing the public for what I believe will be a very harsh and punitive response to any demonstration. It's very frightening. In all of my 40 years of activism {Goldberg was a leader in the Berkley Free Speech Movement}, this one is more frightening than most. I've watched what they're doing. During a peaceful demonstration of hotel workers the other day, the police were armed to the teeth. They had gases and other chemical warfare, long clubs, rifles and automatic weapons. I was terrified. And even if the demonstrations went off as everybody planned, my fear - is what will be the level of response to something that's unplanned? Things can escalate very easily. This is very scary stuff. The police are geared to over respond. I hope I'm just being an alarmist. But it looks pretty creepy."

Meanwhile the ACLU of Southern California, joined by several legal and protest groups, has demanded that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) stop harassing protesters at the Convergence Center, their organizing headquarters downtown. According to the ACLU, the LAPD has the Center under surveillance, and has visited several times without warrants. "They've crossed the line separating legitimate security preparations from unlawful harassment that violates protesters' First and Fourth Amendment rights," says ACLU attorney Dan Tokaji. "The mere potential for a disturbance does not justify the suspension of our Constitutional rights."

"Throughout the process of planning for this convention, the LAPD has pursued an unswerving course of alarmism, division, and fear-mongering," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The tactics of intimidation and harassment targeting protesters at their organizing center are part of that approach. At each fork in the road during this process, the LAPD has had choices. Unfortunately, the department has too often chosen to lay the groundwork for a confrontation rather than build the framework for a peaceful convention. They envision another Seattle and their every action unintentionally contributes to just such a scenario." In Seattle, Washington an estimated 50,000 protesters shut down meetings of the World Trade Organization in a major confrontation with police. Amid the chaos, riot-clad police used rubber bullets and tear-gas while some protesters targeted stores for vandalism.

In a recent conversation with reporters, LAPD Commander Dave Kalish, the department's openly gay spokesperson, said the department would be prepared for any contingency. He noted the protests in Seattle and a smaller one in Washington D.C. and pointed to the spontaneous outbreak of violence following the Lakers' NBA title win outside the Staples Center, the same venue that will house the DNC. He said that while he expects most demonstrators to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights, "intelligence reports" indicate that some anarchists and some "indigenous" gang members may infiltrate the protesters in order to create havoc, do property damage and steal. He also noted that some of the violence in the aftermath of the Lakers' game specifically targeted journalists and he cautioned reporters to be on guard.

In an interview during the Republican Convention, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan said the city was "well prepared" for the DNC and the demonstrators but "we aren't going to tolerate lawlessness" However, he said, "I expect the vast, vast majority of demonstrators will get their message across peacefully." But civil libertarians and protesters are also wondering if the LAPD will repeat the actions of the Philadelphia police which used videotape surveillance and other methods to identify in advance the protest leaders before the Republican National Convention convened. It is believed that over 400 were arrested during sometimes violent confrontations with police in the first two days of the GOP convention. According to spokespeople for the R2K legal team, just over 170 have been released and 300 are still in jail. The amount of bail has been set as high as million in some cases. Meanwhile 150 men are on a hunger strike, some since last Tuesday, to protest the high bail for mostly minor charges and the abuse they say they've suffered at the hands of jailers and the criminal justice system.

"Ax murderers don't get this," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Carolyn McGuckin-Robinson, 39, the mother of 19 year old Terrence McGuckin as saying during a vigil across from Police Headquarters. Described by friends as a gentle freshman graphic arts major at Temple University, McGuckin is being held on 0,000 bail for misdemeanor charges that include possession of an instrument of crime - a cell phone. He was inside a van, which had been followed by police, when arrested. "He does practice nonviolent confrontation," McGuckin-Robinson said. "So did Martin Luther King. And so did Jesus." According to news reports, police deny mistreating the protesters, saying protesters have contributed to the delays in processing by refusing to identify themselves and stripping to avoid comparison with videotape taken during the demonstrations.

But while the explicitly non-violent R2K legal team is about to take a firm stand distancing themselves from the violence and vandalism committed by self-styled anarchists, they rebuked the police for treating all protesters the same in order to keep them off the streets until after the convention. Additionally, they say the stories of abuse consistently told by release protesters warrant investigation.

Mail carrier Joe Piette, a 53 year old Vietnam veteran, for instance, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was picked up with a group of marchers and held three days, though he fully cooperated with the police. "One of the [jail] guards told me the intent in meetings with city officials in planning on how to deal with the protesters was that they wanted to keep us all in prison until the convention was over," Piette told the Inquirer.

But other protesters have not faired as well. Kate Sorenson, a protester with the Philadelphia Direct Action Group and ACT UP/Philly who was arrested as an alleged "ringleader" during a police raid Tuesday of a puppet-making warehouse, faces 7 felony charges and is still being held on million bail. The R2K legal team says police visited and videotaped the comings and goings of people from the warehouse prior to the convention. R2K legal spokespeople later said police arrest protesters inside the warehouse on charges of "blocking a highway and reckless endangerment of a person." Police later displayed puppet-making materials as "evidence" of the protesters' intent to use the puppetry as weaponry.

Meanwhile on Monday a judge reduced the bail of another "ringleader," John Sellers, from million to 0,000 on all misdemeanor charges. Sellers, director of the California-based, non-violent civil disobedience group called the Ruckus Society, was described by a prosecutor as a protest leader who "facilitates the more radical elements to accomplish their objective of violence and mayhem," reports the Inquirer. He was on the sidewalk when arrested. Darby Landy, a protester facing felony charges for assaulting police officers, is facing a 0,000 bail. Critics believe the high bail is designed to keep protesters in jail beyond the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles next week.

Mayor Street and Police Commissioner John F. Timoney stand by their hard line decision. "These people voluntarily joined in a what I regard as a very ill-conceived conspiracy, and now they're in jail because they violated the law," Street told the Inquirer. But he refused to believe stories of abuse in jail and the denial of medications by guards, even though one complaint came from the Quaker executive director of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. "I just don't believe it," the Inquirer reported Street said Monday. "I believe they're being treated with the same dignity and respect that should be accorded virtually any other person that's in custody."

But that's not what the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania thinks. "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," said Larry Frankel, the group's executive director, in a statement released Monday. "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."

The group is also "greatly disturbed by {Police Commissioner John Timoney's} call for a federal investigation. We are also troubled by the District Attorney {Lynn Abraham'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." This statement comes after protesters criticized ACLU legal director Stefan Presser who told the media during the demonstrations that the police "showed enormous restraint" with violent protesters and the selective arrests were "smart tactics." He also discounted the protesters' claims of abuse in jail as "highly unlikely."

The claims of abuse include: denials of access to food, water and bathrooms, as well as access to lawyers; sleep deprivation by overnight handcuffing in awkward positions; the use of pepper spray to coerce arrestees into attending arraignments; stripping of prisoners' clothing; beatings; denial of essential medication, including for people with diabetes and asthma; denial of food, water and access to the bathroom for extended periods.

The R2K legal team also says they have "numerous accounts of arrestees who have been isolated, verbally abused, punched, kicked, thrown against walls, bloodied, and dragged naked across floors, in one instance through a "trash trough" containing refuse, spittle and urine. There has been a reported sexual assault by a female officer who pulled and twisted a prisoner's penis, as well as reports of people dragged by their genitals and nipples being twisted by guards. Seven witnesses saw one woman dragged naked and bleeding."

"These are reports we're getting from people who're just getting out of jail," says Sara Marcus, a 23 year old lesbian member of the R2K legal Collective whose girlfriend is unreachable in jail. "We're giving them forms and telling them, 'Don't exaggerate. Only tell us what you saw and experienced.' One member of our legal collective, Jamie Graham, was working as a legal observer on Wednesday when he saw an officer striking a woman. He went over to take a picture and he was thrown to the pavement with an officer's foot pressing his head to the pavement. His injuries were so severe, he had to be taken to the hospital. He was released with instructions to keep his wound clean. But he was denied Ibuprophen and water. Fellow prisoners tried to collect bits of water and pass it to him but the guards took the container away. He showed up at our press conference Friday with a visible red footprint on the side of his head. And even though he kept trying to cooperate - he didn't intend to get arrested - they deliberately kept him in jail until after the convention."

Marcus also noted that prior to the protests, demonstrators had pledged to follow the Philadelphia Direct Action groups' "action guidelines" that promised to "do no violence against any living thing," including throwing projectiles. The guidelines also discouraged property damage but "a group serving as the space for a bunch of different smaller groups cannot in any way have control over other what other groups do

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