- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Police yesterday allowed an unpermitted but peaceful march of homeless activists to move through the city, averting mass arrests.
But a showdown appears likely today when activists target Republican National Convention delegates with "direct action" civil disobedience tactics like human barricades.
"We're geared toward disrupting the day's events," said Beka Economopoulos, spokeswoman for the R2K Network, the umbrella coalition of groups that have protested against the Republicans since Saturday.
"It's not vindictive … [but] we're hoping that for one day, the delegates, who represent the decision makers, will find disruption in their lives," Miss Economopoulos said.
Police Commissioner John Timoney has said that he won't allow major disruptions, and that authorities will be on the lookout for "serious property damage and violence."
Police so far have employed a low-key strategy of watch and wait, accommodating even unpermitted marches that slow traffic as long as they "are peaceful and orderly," said police Capt. William Fisher of the civil affairs unit.
He walked ahead of yesterday's "poor people's march" from City Hall to the First Union Center, where the convention is being held.
So far, demonstrations in Philadelphia have failed to live up to earlier predictions that there would be as many as 40,000 protesting the Republican convention. Organizers of yesterday's march estimated their numbers as "more than 3,000," according to the Associated Press.
Shutting down the convention is not a goal of the protests, Miss Economopoulos said, because Republican officials already have made the important decisions.
Also, the First Union Center is much easier to protect than targets of similar protests in Seattle last year and the District in April.
That's why protesters aim to slow or even stop delegates before they get to the convention, presumably at their hotels, though protest organizers would not comment on specific tactics and locations.
Authorities are aware of their advantage at the convention site and disadvantage at other spots throughout the city, where as few as a dozen activists in an "affinity group" could chain themselves together across a hotel entrance or intersection.
"A few small groups will look to make hay between now and Friday," Commissioner Timoney said. "We are always ready."
Philadelphia police have been training for more than a year for protests, attending refresher courses in crowd control and seminars on how to endure obscene and offensive taunts.
If protesters engage in civil disobedience, the rules of engagement are clear, said police Lt. Susan Slawson, public information officer.
Officers can only use pepper spray or batons on protesters who threaten or attack them, not on activists who refuse to remove themselves from a barricade, Lt. Slawson said.
Only Commissioner Timoney or two other senior police officials can authorize the use of tear gas a much more potent weapon and that will only happen if the situation is "extremely out of hand," she said.
Activists with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a poor people's advocacy group based here, feared yesterday's unpermitted march would lead to arrests, based on earlier comments from police and city officials.
But police stopped traffic for the group, which marched the 3 and 1/2 miles in humid weather to the convention center. When police stopped the march about a block north of the center, the tired and sun-burned protesters moved into a fenced-off park and rested in the shade of trees.
Police reported 11 arrests yesterday. Nine persons were charged with various misdemeanors for blocking traffic, and two persons were arrested when they tried to climb the fence between the park and the convention center grounds, police said.

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