Moving from the convention floor to the streets of Philadelphia. The arrests continue here on the streets of Philadelphia, and so, too, does the jail solidarity by activists who have camped outside the various jails where the arrested are held calling for their release. The authorities here in Philadelphia have been on a crackdown of immense proportions. In the last couple of days, a number of people have been picked up, not in demonstrations, but simply walking down the street. They are considered by the police to be the ring leaders of the protesters who have come into Philadelphia to demonstrate during the Republican National Convention. And the treatment of many protesters, much of which has been captured on video cameras of various independent media reporters or activists, has illustrated a frightening level of violence by the police towards protesters. [includes rush transcript]
- I-Witness Video
- Sara Scully, the founder of I-Witness Video, based in New York.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez, broadcasting from Center City, Philadelphia, just a couple miles from the First Union Center, the non-union First Union Center, where the Republican National Convention took place over the last four days, culminating in the acceptance speech of George W. Bush last night, preceded by a ten-minute speech by his nephew, George P. Bush, that included, well, Spanish together with English. Juan?
Yes, but now we’re going to take a look at what’s been happening in the streets, since the climax in the streets was on Tuesday. And ever since then, the police department and the authorities here in Philadelphia have been on a crackdown of immense proportions.
Immense proportions. In the last few days, a number of people picked up, not at demonstrations, but walking down the street, because they are considered "ringleaders,” among them, John Sellers, who is the head of the Ruckus Society, one of the major trainers in nonviolence. And he — his bail has been set at $1 million. Also, the case for a Philadelphia activist, ACT UP activist, whose bail was set at about a half-a-million dollars.
But right now we’re joined by Sara Scully, who was with us in New York just the week before the Philadelphia Republican Convention talking about what she would be doing here. Now, she’s here to talk about what she has seen as founder of I-Witness Video.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
So, these last four days, what have you viewed through the videographer’s lens?
Well, unlike the quote that came out in the New York Times on August 2nd that the police clearly worked to avoid the sort of full-scale baton-wielding clashes with street demonstrators that occurred last winter at the World Trade Organization conference, we’ve seen something very different from that. And we actually put together —- I-Witness Video put together a highlights reel of some of police behavior in the last couple of days. We, in fact, did see a lot of police brutality, the kind of individualized brutality that we saw at the World Trade Organization conference. For instance, there was a young woman who was just walking by the police, who was wondering where her boyfriend was, because the police had taken him off. And, as we can see in this first clip -—
And we should say that this is only for public access television that we are running some of the video, so you’ll have to describe it in detail for our community radio listeners around the country.
Sure. In the first clip, we see the police officer just grabs the woman and slams her up against the wall here and punches her in the face. And the second clip, it’s much the same. The officer, instead of just pushing back the crowd, he pushes back the crowd, and then it just becomes more and more tense, and starts beating them, because pushing back is just clearly not enough for him. He has to take it that one step further. So we definitely have seen the baton-wielding clashes that we saw in Seattle and in D.C.
In this next clip, we see something a little more specific than we saw in the last two protests, taking out of leaders. This is Paul Davis. He’s just walking through the crowd. He’s one of the heads of ACT UP. And he gets grabbed by the police and pulled to the ground. And they clearly want his Nextel radio, perhaps feeling like that’s a main communications tool for him.
This next clip is the most disconcerting, because we see here a group of actually undercover police dressed as protesters. There’s a fellow with his gang dressed as protesters with a bandana on his head and a red backpack. And they’re sort of walking around. And then, in the next clip, he gets up from a scuffle with the officers. He was knocked over and then just jumps on the protester and walks away without even being arrested.
And the final clip is, again, this new sort of intimidation on the part of the police department in harassment. These officers swarmed around actually one of our I-Witness videographers hanging out outside a meeting on Sunday, before anything even began, and started taunting him, taking his picture, and he gets their badge number, and I can’t even imagine why they gave it to him after the next — because then — yeah, then they hit him in the face. They hit him in the camera after giving the badge number.
And, overall, your summary of what you saw this week, what you expected to find, and what you did, because certainly — and Juan, we’ve been observing this throughout the week with the police news conferences — in a way, John Timoney, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner, is becoming, as you said, a folk hero, as he vies for — possibly to become head of the New York Police Department under a new administration.
Yes. No, it’s clear that Timoney is using this National Convention to campaign, and I agree with you, there have been a lot of individual examples of how the police have been cracking down on people’s civil rights. The times that I’ve been out on the streets, though, I think that the level of massive retaliation, maybe because the protests are smaller compared to Seattle, there hasn’t been the massive hourly use of tear gas and rubber bullets and just massive arrests and clearing of people that there were there. It could be partially that the numbers are smaller, so they feel that they can contain it without that degree of a — without that degree of a massive show of force.
I think what we clearly see is just the police are becoming smarter, rather than a blatant mass show of violence, which affects everyone. They’re trying to take out leaders and do more, you know, kind of tactical hits. Plus, when you have a convention in town with a lot of guests, you don’t want a messy city. You don’t want a city full of tear gas that actually might affect some people going to the convention. So —
And we certainly know that this is preparation for Los Angeles, and there is a lot of pressure right now on political activists and those who are training others in nonviolence, as some of the top activists have been arrested, are being held on extraordinary bails. We’re talking about people like John Sellers of Ruckus Society, charged with misdemeanors, yet a million dollars bail.
Well, I want to thank you very much, Sara Scully of I-Witness Video.