Mass Arrests to Mass Resistance: From the RNC 2000 to Today
Over the last year, people across the country have taken to the streets in numbers unseen for decades to demand an end to police killings of unarmed people of color.
Meanwhile, the corporate media has forced the public to turn to the spectacle of presidential elections and all of its inanity. Inevitably, the movements seeking justice for those murdered by police and the media circus of presidential politics will meet in the streets of Philadelphia and Cleveland, the host cities of the 2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, making it a good time to reflect on the history and lessons learned from past political mobilizations.
Both cities have seen their police in the news recently and boast long, shameful records of police violence. Philadelphia (DNC) and Cleveland (RNC) have plenty of examples of unarmed African-Americans being killed by police with impunity. Last month, a white Cleveland cop was acquitted of killing two unarmed African-Americans in 2012. Just last week, an Ohio judge found probable cause to charge the white officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November with murder, manslaughter and reckless homicide, although no charges have been filed yet. Less than two weeks after Rice's death, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the results of a two-year investigation of the Cleveland Police Department that found insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.
Philadelphia's sordid history on police abuse is legendary and, like Cleveland, has consistently refused to prosecute cops who use deadly force. This past March, in response to a spike in police-involved shootings, the DOJ issued a report which found that out of nearly 400 such shootings from 2007-2014, about 80 percent of people shot at were Black. The report also found that officers not only receive insufficient training on deadly use of force and how to de-escalate tense situations, but also must mend the "undercurrent of significant strife between the community and the department."
Last month, Philadelphians and other people of conscience commemorated the 30th anniversary of the police attack on the Black Liberation organization MOVE, tragically killing 11 people - six adults and five children. In 1985, city police shot more than 10,000 rounds into the MOVE home on Osage Avenue, then used military grade C-4 explosives provided by the FBI to carry out the only aerial bombing by police on US soil.
Fifteen years later, Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney established another legacy of police abuse in response to the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC) protests.
Against tens of thousands of mostly-white, Global Justice activists, the city worked collaboratively with local, state and federal agencies to stifle dissent. Police preemptively raided activist spaces, conducted heavy surveillance and infiltration, arrested hundreds of protesters, as well as questioned and harassed countless people. The city imposed unprecedented and prohibitively high bails, maliciously prosecuted hundreds of activists, and used an insurance policy purchased by the convention host committee to hire one of Philadelphia's most expensive law firms to defensd itself against civil lawsuits.
Timoney used the RNC 2000 protests as a laboratory to hone an aggressive response to political activism, which has been used to varying degrees ever since. Timoney, as the prime architect of our modern policing practices against political unrest, went on to perfect those tactics as Miami Police Chief in response to Free Trade Area of the America protesters in 2003.
The playbook of violent and repressive police tactics was coined the "Miami Model" and has been used against political movements from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter. And, certainly those planning to take to the streets in Cleveland and Philadelphia in order to gain national media attention and inject their issue into the national dialog will undoubtedly face a hard-line response to dissent that is the legacy of the Miami Model.
Although it was more than a decade ago, the year 2000 marked not only the re-emergence of a contemporary anti-dissident policing model, but also a corresponding and impressively sophisticated defiance by activists. That year, people in Philadelphia used collective action and solidarity to effectively resist the legal system, providing us with important lessons and the potential to build greater power within social movements.
Teachers, social workers, law students and others put their livelihoods on the line to collectively refuse plea bargains and take their cases to trial. The defendants and their supporters formed a legal collective, R2K Legal, which worked to draw media and political attention to their cases and the issues that brought them to the streets. Legal strategies were developed and executed collectively, direct action was used in the courtroom, and some activists represented themselves pro se, all with the aim of standing in solidarity with dozens of comrades facing felony charges and mitigating legal harm for everyone.
The stories of this collective resistance against the legal system, and the police repression that precipitated it, are chronicled in my book Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000, which will be published in July by PM Press.
With Timoney now assisting the Bahraini monarchy in suppressing a popular uprising, Philadelphians are left with Commissioner Charles Ramsey to de-escalate tensions between the community and the police. Ramsey, however, comes with his own baggage and is no stranger to police abuse of protesters. His tactics as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC in the early 2000s were legally challenged, resulting in new crowd control policies and costing the district more than $20 million.
And, leave it to Timoney to exploit any media opportunity to frighten the public and justify a violent police response to protest at the DNC. The former police commissioner recently took time out from his questionable security contract in the tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain to call the DNC "an opportunity for some lone wolf or terrorist cell to exploit the publicity that a political convention brings to the table."
Needless to say, the police practice of suppressing dissent modeled after the response to the RNC 2000 protests is raging like a wildfire across the critical social movements of our time. Today, activists are coming together to resist in ways both similar to and different from the tactics used in that era. But, because we must be ever more creative and vigilant in our determination to resist the state, there is always work to be done.
This blog will be a space to tie current events to Crashing the Party and to serve as a broader discussion of abusive police practices and all of the inspiring contemporary forms of resistance against the legal system. I'd love to hear your feedback on all of it, so please stay tuned and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
(Photo by Brad Kayal)
Kris Hermes is author of the forthcoming: Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000.