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Million Dollar Man Speaks

by Michael A. de Yoanna Monday, Aug. 14, 2000 at 5:11 PM
mdeyoanna@hotmail.com

John Sellers on his high bail and release

Philadelphia Republican National Convention protester John Sellers is out of jail after facing a -million bail for several misdemeanors.

His bail was reduced on Tuesday to 0,000 -- and now he is expressing concern for freedom of speech and the more than 100 who remain behind bars.

According to Philadelphia police, 391 people were arrested last week in demonstrations related to the convention.

Eighty-five "John Does," 60 "Jane Does" and six others arrested in protests remain in jail, police said Thursday.

Sellers, a member of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Ruckus Society, was arrested during several scattered direct-action demonstrations that took place Aug. 1. He told the Colorado Daily on Thursday that the attention he's received from city officials, police and the media both before and during the convention has generally been undue.

"If I were the mastermind (behind the direct action), I was pretty damn lackadaisical about what I should have been doing," Sellers said.

Sellers consults activist on behalf of the Ruckus Society. The group supports, trains and provides network help for activists interested in non-violent social change, Sellers said.

The Ruckus Society sponsors "action camps" where hundreds have already received theoretical and hands-on

training in handling media, climbing trees, online activism and non-violent resistance techniques.

As a result of its resistance training, the Ruckus Society was profiled by Philadelphia police, Sellers said, and

surveilled.

Just before his arrest, Sellers said he was consulting and supporting members of the Rainforest Action Network who had engaged in direct action at Philadelphia's Citigroup Bank.

"We were giving them an award for being the most destructive bank on the planet and for being a funder of both the conventions," Sellers said.

Police moved in and arrested many people who were blocking a street, including Sellers.

He was charged with obstruction of justice, possession of an instrument to create a crime -- allegedly in reference to his cell phone -- obstructing a highway, failure to disperse, recklessly endangering another person and conspiracy to commit each of these crimes.

"The court system and police had made space for ... upwards of 4,000 protesters to be arrested during the week," Sellers said. "I felt like we were already being tried in the court of public opinion."

Sellers said he and other members of his group had come to the media's attention a week prior to his arrest. He had been approached by CNN for an interview as delegates arrived in the city, and later by NBC.

"It's funny that NBC national wanted to interview me, and I had explained to them that I didn't feel like it was fair to interview me because I didn't have much to do with Philadelphia at all," Sellers said. "The biggest contribution that we had made to the RNC activist scene was to do a camp in early July for folks that were interested in using non-violent direct action and civil disobedience."

Sellers was also invited to debate Philadelphia police chief John Timoney on CNN's Burden of Proof, but declined that offer.

"I told them I didn't think it was appropriate for Ruckus to be speaking for folks on what was going to happen in Philadelphia, because we weren't playing a very major role, and that they should give it to (local) people that were organized on the scene," Sellers said.

Sellers said he has also witnessed the anti-World Bank demonstrations and subsequent police crackdowns in Seattle and Washington, D.C. He now has plans to be in Los Angeles for the beginning of the Democratic National Convention Monday.

Sellers said the high bails are a new tactic being employed by police and officials who "increasingly" feel

threatened by the ideas of protesters.

Last April in Washington, bails lodged against the more than 1,000 arrested in conjunction with International

Monetary Fund protests averaged or less.

In Philadelphia, members of the National Lawyers Guild -- who converged in the city to safeguard the First Amendment -- are calling the bails excessive and some "unconstitutional."

Sellers said the -million price tag placed on his release was tactical.

"Actually, the district attorney was extremely candid that it was a tactic to keep me personally out of L.A.,"

Sellers said.

Of the 391 arrested, only 35 were charged with felonies, police said. But excessive bails were pervasive in

Philadelphia, still averaging ,000 for misdemeanor offenses even after being reduced by a judge, Angus

Love of the National Lawyers Guild said.

"It's still too excessive," Love said.

Though Sellers put forth the theory that the high bails are designed to keep some protesters from making it to

L.A., Love said hard-line district attorneys and money interests are playing a greater role.

"I have a stronger sense that why the bails are high is so that 0 million could roll into Philadelphia; that

the city would appear peaceful," Love said.

Jail solidarity continued into the night for some 100 people, but is slowly eroding as an estimated 12 to 15 a

day are released, Love said.

Sellers said he felt guilty about his release.

"Actually, I had enough people to help post my bail even if it remained at a million, which I'm extremely

grateful for," Sellers said. "But it was a hard decision thinking about whether I wanted to come out or not,

because there was so much solidarity inside."

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