Seattle put protest on the map, but it also set the stage for the
criminalization of dissent during last summer's Republican National Convention.
Providence activist Camilo Viveiros is still grappling with the aftermath
by Steven Stycos
Civil liberties lawyers say it was one of the largest violations of First
Amendment rights since the Vietnam War -- and Providence activist Camilo
Viveiros was right in the middle of it.
Philadelphia police arrested more than 400 people, including Viveiros, last
summer during the Republican National Convention. But the record of prosecutors
in winning convictions has been dismal. Scores of arrests have been thrown out
of court for lack of evidence. And civil suits alleging violations of
constitutional rights are expected to be filed in the coming months.
The charges against Viveiros, however, are not likely to be dismissed. Police
allege that the soft-spoken 29-year-old tenants' rights activist threw a
bicycle at Philadelphia police Commissioner John Timoney during a march against
the "criminal injustice system." Viveiros, whose name is pronounced "Camile,"
says the accusations are "trumped up." Viveiros received some good news in
October, when Pennsylvania Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe threw out the most
serious charges against him.
Without testimony from Viveiros or other defense witnesses, she rejected
prosecutors' argument that two other protesters and he conspired to attack
police. "It's not supported by anything, frankly," Dembe observed, according to
a hearing transcript. The judge also dismissed charges of reckless endangerment
and possessing an instrument of crime. And she reduced charges of assault with
intent to kill to assault. But even with the reduced charges, Viveiros, if
convicted, could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, according to his lawyer,
and his case would certainly be used as proof that strong police action against
young Seattle-type demonstrators is necessary.
Because prosecutors are appealing Dembe's dismissal of the most serious
charges, Viveiros and his girlfriend, Mimi Budnik, an organizer for the
Providence-based activist group Direct Action for Rights and Equality, face
years of legal wrangling before the case goes to trial. An appeals court ruling
could take a year, predicts Viveiros' lawyer, Robert Levant, and that decision
could be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court -- a process that could
take another year.
Commissioner Timoney says the criminal cases against protesters have collapsed
not because of their innocence, but because of a permissive brand of justice in
Philadelphia. "The vast majority of people arrested in Philadelphia, for much
more serious charges, are back out," he told the Phoenix during a
On the whole, though, Timoney expresses satisfaction with the preparations
that police made for protests during the Republican convention. "By and large,
it went according to plan," he says. Proud that he kept his promise not to use
tear gas and rubber bullets, Timoney states, "The one thing I didn't want to
have happen was Dan Rather or some other guy, going on television with scenes
like Seattle or [the Democratic National Convention in] Chicago in '68."
Calling protesters "crybabies to the core," Timoney denies that civil liberties
But Philadelphia officials and a raft of law enforcement agencies -- including
the FBI, Secret Service, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and state
police from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware -- took extraordinary
measures to ensure that the presidential nomination of George W. Bush wouldn't
They severely limited places for protests, spied on pre-demonstration meetings
and infiltrated protest groups. And on the day of the largest planned civil
disobedience, police and federal agents raided a warehouse where signs and
demonstration props were being prepared, arrested 75 people, and destroyed the
props. Philadelphia also changed the way it handled routine non-violent civil
disobedience arrests. Rather than receiving the equivalent of a traffic ticket,
protesters found themselves charged with numerous serious crimes. Once
arrested, protesters were slapped with bails up to $1 million, which kept them
off the streets until well after the convention ended. "Massive civil rights
violations," summarizes Stefan Presser, legal director of the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania.
Viveiros and other activists believe the police actions were a concerted
effort to villainize protesters and crush dissent, a nationally coordinated
effort that has become progressively more sophisticated since the massive
November 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle.
"We were [in Philadelphia] to protest the violence of poverty," says Viveiros,
who works as the lead organizer in southeastern Massachusetts for the
Boston-based Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, "and they tried to portray us as
someone just interested in skirmishes with the police."
Speaking of the felony charges pending against him, he adds, "The situation
I'm in right now is directly related to our success in Seattle."
ALTHOUGH HE wasn't arrested, Viveiros was among a group of New Englanders who
sat down in the middle of a downtown Seattle intersection as part of the effort
to draw attention to the then-obscure WTO. After tens of thousands of
protesters forced cancellation of the WTO's opening day ceremonies, Seattle's
mayor declared a civil emergency and established a 25-block "no protest zone"
in the center city. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union
of Washington, the 25-block area was "a militarized zone that suspended civil
Inside the zone, police prohibited activities that most Americans take for
granted. People were arrested for wearing anti-WTO buttons and handing out
copies of a New York Times editorial. Protesters with signs were barred,
and copies of the First Amendment were confiscated from a person who was trying
to distribute them. After failing to install barricades and fences that would
have guaranteed WTO delegates access to meetings, the ACLU summarizes, the
mayor and police overreacted, establishing the no-protest zone and using
excessive force to remove non-violent demonstrators from the street.
In the end, the WTO was temporarily derailed, Seattle's reputation was
tarnished, the police chief resigned, and a generation of young protesters was
inspired. "The message that went out from Seattle," said Viveiros, in an
interview three months before the Republican National Convention was, "that
people's concerted action can be effective. That our voices can be heard, if
we're willing to take risks and actions with our bodies, and have commitment to
follow them through."
Philadelphia police Commissioner John Timoney, however, received a different
message: Be prepared, or your city will be disgraced, and you could lose your
Timoney isn't a typical police chief: According to a glowing profile in
Esquire magazine last year, Timoney, 52, "is a good cop, maybe the best
cop." Emigrating from Ireland as a child, he became a New York City patrolman,
earned master's degrees in degrees in history and urban planning, and rose to
second in command of the nation's largest police force. After a falling out
with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Timoney was hired as Philadelphia's police
commissioner in February 1998.
Timoney is intense. He twice ran two marathons in a week, Esquire
relates, and once had himself sprayed in the eyes with Mace to prove it's
better than being subdued with a nightstick. He enjoys arresting people so
much, the story claims, that as a Bronx patrolman he allowed criminals to
escape, so he could chase them down and arrest them a second time.
It was this love of street policing that led Timoney to join a bicycle patrol
August 1 -- a day of heavy protests during the Republican convention -- putting
the hands-on cop and activist Camilo Viveiros on an inexorable collision
PHILADELPHIA POLICE have a checkered record when it comes to their relations
with minorities and protesters. Frank Rizzo, a patrolman who became
commissioner and then mayor, became the symbol of white ethnic voters who
abandoned the Democratic Party over its opposition to the Vietnam War and
support for civil rights. In 1988, a federal judge found the police had so
seriously violated free speech during the bicentennial celebration that he
placed the city under a permanent injunction -- still in place -- to protect
First Amendment rights. And more recently, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black
Panther convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel
Faulkner, has become a symbol for opponents of the death penalty and police
But it was Philadelphia's political leadership, not the police, that first
signaled that civil liberties might be sacrificed to ensure the Republican
convention ran smoothly. Trying to avoid a repeat of past history, Stefan
Presser, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, started meeting with police
in January 2000 to see that the First Amendment would be honored during the
The first problem was protest permits. In February 2000, Unity 2000, a
coalition of 50 labor, environmental, human rights, and economic justice
groups, requested a permit for an anti-corporate march. But city officials
denied the request. No space was available, they were told, because an Omnibus
Special Events permit granted to the Republicans gave them the first right of
refusal for the park where Unity 2000 wanted to hold its rally, as well as nine
other public areas traditionally used for political events. The permit applied
to both the week of the convention and the week before.
Defending the actions, senior city attorney Michelle Flamer says the first
right of refusal was granted, long before Seattle, to entice the Republicans to
pick Philadelphia. Pointing to the half-dozen protest permits that were
granted, she says, "The city did a very good job of [accommodating
protesters]." But Unity 2000 and the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care
received permits only after Presser filed a federal court suit. "In the history
of the United States there had never been a omnibus permit issued to one
political party that gave access to every space in a city," Presser says.
Unlike Seattle, Philadelphia did not need a no-protest zone to keep
demonstrators away from their target, in this case, the First Union Center,
where the Republicans met. Because the center is privately owned and surrounded
by huge parking lots, protesters were unable to get anywhere near the
Meanwhile, in the run-up to the convention, Presser thought his meetings with
Timoney and other police officials produced sufficient First Amendment
protection for the anticipated mass of demonstrators: First, rather than
gassing and arresting protesters when they sat in the street, as in Seattle,
police would close the street, divert traffic and allow demonstrators to make
their statement; and second, police would not disrupt protests before they
began, as they did by seizing literature, banners and giant puppets prior to
the April 2000 demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund in Washington, DC. Presser says police assured him this would not happen
in Philadelphia. "I thought I had a clear understanding there weren't going to
be any preemptive strikes," he says.
Other signs, though, weren't encouraging. In a June 2000 interview with
George magazine that was quoted by local newspapers, Philadelphia Mayor
John Street commented, "I have strong feelings about First Amendment stuff, but
we have got some idiots coming here. Some will come and say whatever obnoxious
things they want to say and go home. Some will come here to disrupt, to make a
spectacle out of what's going on. They are going to get a very ugly
Also in June, Jody Dodd, a coordinator for the Women's International League
for Peace and Freedom, noticed that two men in a parking garage across the
street were taking photos of weekly protest meetings in her Philadelphia
office. Although the men denied being cops, they were forced to acknowledge
that they, in fact, were police officers after a Philadelphia Inquirer
reporter traced their license plate.
Worried that they were being portrayed as potentially violent demonstrators,
Presser, Dodd, and other members of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group met
two weeks before the convention with Robert Mitchell, the police department's
deputy commissioner for special operations, to assure police that a violent
response to their planned August 1 demonstration against the "criminal
injustice system" was unnecessary. The activists, who promised not to taunt
police, informed them that they would be doing civil disobedience, but couldn't
be more specific because, as in Seattle, actions would be conducted by
autonomous affinity groups. For their part, the police promised not to use
pepper gas and gas masks. Around the same time, a leaked plan by Philadelphia's
Department of Human Services -- to take custody of 1000 children if their
parents were arrested during the convention -- was seen as an attempt to scare
members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union from participating in the
The initial protests went fairly smoothly on the weekend before the
convention. Several permitted marches occurred without incident, and police,
instead of wearing Seattle-style riot gear, were clad in polo shirts and
shorts, and rode through the city on bicycles. Timoney was publicly praised for
his restrained handling of protests. Monday's demonstration, however, was more
tense as thousands gathered to highlight the plight of the poor during the
welfare rights union's march. At first, police refused to allow the unpermitted
march to proceed, but putting small children and disabled people in wheelchairs
in front, the marchers surged forward, and police retreated rather than forcing
BUT THE police struck on the morning of Tuesday, August 1, as 75 people inside
a warehouse, dubbed the Ministry of Puppetganda, were preparing for
demonstrations. The structure contained the products of weeks of work,
including 138 skeleton figures (representing the people executed in Texas
during George W. Bush's tenure as governor of Texas), a huge
papier-mâché pink pig's head, and bundles of money to illustrate
the corrupting influence of wealth on the criminal justice system. The first
sign of police came when one warehouse worker, who requested anonymity, opened
a warehouse door and spotted them massing. He quickly closed and locked the
When another worker opened the mail slot to look out, he says, police sprayed
pepper gas through the slot. Police also surrounded the building and demanded
to be let in. Those inside refused, unless police could produce a search
warrant, the source says. They also called the ACLU's Presser for help.
A few hours later, police returned with a warrant. By then, Bradley Bridge, a
lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia had responded at Presser's
request. When he arrived, Bridge says, police had the entire block cordoned off
and were refusing to let anyone inside the warehouse leave. A SWAT team was
At the request of a police department lawyer, Bridge went inside to talk to
the protesters. After negotiations, the 75 people agreed to surrender on the
condition that they would be released if nothing illegal was found inside the
warehouse. They also insisted that Bridge accompany the police to assure that
nothing would be planted. The warehouse 75 were placed in plastic handcuffs and
put in buses while Bridge, the Philadelphia police bomb squad and
representatives of the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms searched the building.
Although "they found nothing in the warehouse," Bridge says, officials of the
city Department of Licenses and Inspections appeared on the scene, condemned
the building, and loaded the puppets into a garbage truck. In what Bridge says
was a violation of the agreement, the 75 people were driven around Philadelphia
for eight hours in a hot bus with no bathroom facilities. Then, at 1 a.m., they
were charged with various crimes and jailed at the police station. It was,
Bridge says, part of "a coordinated response by law enforcement . . . to stifle
During the subsequent court proceedings, none of the warehouse occupants was
linked to a serious crime. The proceedings revealed, however, that four
undercover Pennsylvania state troopers had posed as union carpenters while
working in the warehouse. Their surveillance, outlined in a search warrant,
indicated that protesters possessed the PVC pipe and chicken wire typically
used to make "sleeping dragons," devices that lock protesters together during
civil disobedience actions. When the search warrant was unsealed, a Cold War
mentality was also revealed. To justify the search, police cited information
from the right-wing Maldon Institute of Washington, DC, claiming that the
coalition of labor and environmental groups leading the protests was funded by
"Communist and leftist parties" and "the former Soviet-allied World Federation
of Trade Unions."
Interviewed in Philadelphia, Timoney was reluctant to discuss the
infiltration. "I'm sure we're going to get sued on that," he explains. Although
he admits 10 young officers dressed like protesters attended demonstrations as
observers, he says the Philadelphia police did not infiltrate activist groups,
nor did he ask the state police to snoop.
Although the Secret Service held biweekly meetings with Philadelphia police
and state police from Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the nine months
prior to the convention, Timoney says he was unaware of the state police
infiltration at the warehouse until August 1. Jack Lewis, a spokesman for the
Pennsylvania State Police, however, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that
local police were informed in advance about the state's infiltration plans.
Timoney also denies planning to close the warehouse to disrupt the protests.
"There was no discussion by me," he says. "I don't do preemptive things." Asked
about the inability of the undercover state troopers to provide enough
information to bring even one puppet warehouse protester to trial, he calls it
ANATIVE OF Fall River, Massachusetts, Viveiros is the son Portuguese immigrants
from the Azores. As a student at Somerset High School and UMass/Dartmouth,
Viveiros helped to staff a suicide hotline, worked at a group home for
developmentally disable adults, and helped sexual assault victims at the
Women's Center in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After college, he worked for
Empty the Shelters, which advocates for the homeless, before joining the Mass
Alliance of HUD Tenants in 1999. Viveiros says he's twice been arrested for
civil disobedience: in 1994, while joining the Cree Nation in non-violent
protests of hydroelectric plants in northern Quebec, and in 1996, while
successfully challenging an 11 p.m. curfew that was being selectively used
against homeless people on the Boston Common.
Viveiros, who had come to Philadelphia on behalf of the Mass Alliance of HUD
Tenants to meet other activists working on economic justice issues, attended
both the Unity 2000 and the Kensington welfare union marches. With the end of
the convention approaching, he decided to stay another day to support planned
protests, by the Philadelphia Direct Action Group, against the death penalty,
the war on drugs, the rising prison population, and -- two red-flag issues for
Philadelphia cops -- police brutality and what critics call the unjust
conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
But although numerous civil disobedience actions were organized for August 1
-- the same day as the raid at the warehouse -- Viveiros says he wasn't
planning to be arrested. Rather, he merely wanted to attend a permitted rally
against the death penalty. "I had a grant due the next day," he explains, "so I
had to be back in Massachusetts."
Late in the afternoon, Viveiros attended the skeletonless demonstration
against the death penalty near Philadelphia City Hall. When that concluded
around 7 p.m., he moved away from people who were courting arrest, getting
ready to sit down in the street in front of City Hall, and joined a spontaneous
During a preliminary hearing seven days later, police told their story of what
happened shortly afterwards. At the corner of Latimer and 17th streets, Timoney
and two officers encountered 10 or 12 people rocking a car and trying to turn
it over, Timoney testified. They rode their bicycles into the group, jumped
off, and grabbed some of the people rocking the car. Officer Clyde Frasier
grabbed two men by the shirt collar, he testified, but as he and Officer
Raymond Felder tried to cuff one of them, Eric Steinberg of Memphis, Tennessee,
picked up one of the police bikes and came at him. Frasier said he then
released one of the two men he was holding, and punched Steinberg in the chest,
knocking him to the ground.
Timoney was struggling with another protester, he testified, in a "scrum" that
included protesters tugging on him to free the man from his grasp. Then,
Timoney alleges, Viveiros came up from behind and threw a bike at him and
Felder. Timoney told the Phoenix he grabbed Viveiros by the heal, saying
to himself, "This son of a bitch is going nowhere."
Viveiros was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, conspiracy,
possession of an instrument of crime, riot, resisting arrest, recklessly
endangering another person, and disorderly conduct. Bail was set at $450,000.
Similar charges were filed against Steinberg and Darby Landy of Raleigh, North
Carolina, who, police allege, were also in the scrap. Viveiros spent eleven
days in jail before his bail was reduced to $150,000, and he was able to return
Reluctant to discuss his arrest for fear of damaging his legal case, Viveiros
will only say, "Their claims that I attacked them -- it's not accurate." His
lawyer, Robert Levant, adds, "He's innocent and that will be shown at trial,
and there's no question about that."
Those who know Viveiros can't believe he would angrily throw a bicycle at
anyone. His boss, for example, calls him "the most Christ-like person I know."
And those who do not know him, but participated in the protests, call his
arrest part of a police conspiracy to prevent free speech that started with the
omnibus permit, surveillance and infiltration of protest groups.
THE BEST-KNOWN use of arrest to prevent someone from protesting during the
Republican convention in Philadelphia involves John Sellers, head of the
Berkeley, California-based Ruckus Society, which trains activists in civil
disobedience techniques, whose bail was set at $1 million after he was charged
with 14 misdemeanors. By the time he was released when his bail was reduced,
the Republican convention was over. In November, all charges against him were
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, charges were also dropped
against 65 of those arrested at the puppet warehouse. The other 10 made a deal:
if they served six months of probation without incident, the arrest would be
removed from their records.
Charges against seven people who were arrested for lying in the street during
an unpermitted demonstration against the US training academy for Latin American
military officers, formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA), were
also dismissed because of selective prosecution. Judge James DeLeon of
Philadelphia Municipal Court noted that police took no action against hundreds
of people who, on the same day, blocked another street while calling for a
quick execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The only difference between the two
protests, DeLeon wrote, is that the views of the SOA demonstrators "were not
viewed as favorably by Philadelphia citizens."
Charges against more than 300 people have been dropped, or settled for
probation or small fines, according to Kristopher Hermes, a representative of
the R2K Legal Collective, the umbrella group monitoring the cases. About 65
cases remain, Hermes says, including those of Viveiros' and 13 other felony
defendants. Hermes concedes that police cars were spray-painted, and their
tires slashed, but no one has been arrested for those crimes.
In the past, protesters practicing routine civil disobedience were usually
charged with a summary offense, a category equivalent to parking tickets. But
public defender Shawn Nolan believes police and the district attorney's office
decided to charge convention protesters with misdemeanors -- a more serious
offense -- since doing so required the setting of bail. And that, he says,
helped police keep people in jail for the rest of the week. A protest for
reproductive rights and a rally at Citibank were canceled during the last two
days of the convention since remaining protesters had turned their attention to
gaining the release of those who'd been arrested.
Patrick Whittaker of Boston was one of scores of people arrested during
protests that blocked a downtown street August 1. Like many protesters, he
refused to give police his name or cooperate with fingerprinting, so, he says,
police hog-tied him and dragged him to fingerprinting area. Others tell similar
stories of being abused at the police station. "They were very smart," says
protest organizer Dodd. "They didn't beat people on the streets. They beat them
in jail, were there were no reporters and no cameras."
Timoney, however, says stories like Whittaker's are "completely made up."
Unlike Seattle and Washington, where protesters who refused to give their names
were quickly released, "We said here we're not going to have a game," he says.
And Timoney adds, "They kept themselves in jail, and now they're complaining."
But Paul Messing, a lawyer working on civil rights suits against the city,
says many of those who gave their names were held as long as those who did not,
and it was no coincidence that police waited until the convention's last day to
start processing prisoners. Like Nolan, he contends, "The city was
intentionally holding people for a lot longer than necessary, to keep them from
getting out and protesting again before the end of the convention."
Timoney says police showed remarkable restraint. Twenty-six officers were
injured, he observed. Six, including Felder, who suffered a concussion, were
seriously hurt. But, he says proudly, "Not one protester injured -- more than
400 arrested -- that must be a first." Referring to Viveiros, Timoney adds,
"Your boy there from Massachusetts walked into the station house. Nothing
happened to him. Frank Rizzo is turning over in his grave." R2K's Hermes,
however, says there were numerous injuries among protesters. And Viveiros, who
says police knocked him out when he was arrested, produced medical records
indicating that he received a mild concussion.
Viveiros is back at work these days, organizing tenants. Without hesitation,
he says he doesn't regret going to Philadelphia. "It could have happened to
anyone," he says, "and I'm lucky I've invested enough time of my life in
non-violent community activism that I can dispel their caricature of me."
Viveiros' friends in Providence hold monthly fund-raisers to pay his legal
costs. So far, they've raised more than $5000, according to Joseph Fletcher of
Providence, and plan to attend protests at the Bush inauguration and an April
free trade meeting in Quebec.
Timoney also has few regrets. He wishes he had gone to the puppet warehouse
August 1, but thinks overall that police did a good job. He is proud to have
honored his pledge not to use tear gas or rubber bullets, and notes that a week
after the Republican convention, Los Angeles police used pepper spray and
rubber bullets on demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.
But avoiding excessive force is not enough, says the ACLU's Presser, who's
convinced he was misled by Timoney and others. "The department acted publicly
in one fashion, so as to give the impression that they were acting in
compliance with the Constitution," he says, "when, in fact, they were massively
violating civil liberties."