Police on guard against protests

Philadelphia braces as memories of WTO riots in Seattle linger

July 31, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Tiana Duvall and a platoon of allies carried signs that read "Stop Police Brutality" and marched across Benjamin Franklin Parkway yesterday with determination.

The crew - decked in ripped T-shirts, nose rings and pink hair - joined 7,000 protesters, creating a makeshift village on Philadelphia's widest street while denouncing everything from abortion to the death penalty. But the 24-year-old State University of New York student and her friends had more modest goals for the moment.

"We're going to get something to eat," she said.

With the Republican presidential nominee and his vice presidential choice all but certain, the remaining unknown at the Republican National Convention is the impact of demonstrators. With memories of the Seattle riots during the World Trade Organization meetings still fresh, Philadelphia police are bracing for up to 100,000 demonstrators over the next four days.

Yesterday, the trademark light-blue shirts of police officers seemed to easily outnumber protesters, with officers lining the parkway on every street corner and subway stop. Sweltering humidity helped sedate many of the demonstrators, who have their own reminder dancing in their heads: the video of Philadelphia police beating a shooting suspect.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney rode his bicycle alongside protesters yesterday, saying the city has no intention of preventing them from having their say, even if it means criticizing his department.

"We're fair; we're equitable," Timoney said. "But we're also prepared to keep everyone safe."

Adeleine Fraley appeared disappointed by the fact that the protesters were orderly. The Philadelphia senior citizen recalled marching in Selma, Ala., with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"It's troubling," Fraley, a Democrat, said of yesterday's contained demonstration. "But they're probably doing it for safety."

More than 200 groups found their way to the parkway. Several protesters held signs condemning likely Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush for executing 137 inmates while serving as Texas governor.

Another popular topic was Mumia Abu Jamal, a Philadelphia free-lance journalist who was condemned to die in 1982 for shooting a city police officer. Many groups oppose the execution, calling for Jamal to get a new trial.

Yesterday, demonstrators even challenged one another, particularly over abortion. Christian groups stood with banners condemning the procedure while women circled them chanting, "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries."

Dave Zielin, a 44-year-old homeless Vietnam veteran, watched the demonstrations with disinterest from a nearby park bench.

"It's just another dog and pony show," Zielin said. "Half of them don't even know what they're protesting. I just hope they don't tear up the city."

Baltimoreans will jump into the fray today when members from Baltimorean United In Leadership Development, a labor and church-based citizens organization, arrive to draw attention to the nation's housing needs. About 1,000 activists will meet at 7 p.m. in the Logan section of the city, where houses have been sinking.

As the convention nears its finale Thursday night, the number of protests are expected to swell. But yesterday, police and demonstrators operated in harmony, even sharing ice. One woman, wearing a shirt decorated with a peace sign, expressed gratitude to officers.

"Thanks for keeping your cool," she said.

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