- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Only a few thousand peaceful protesters turned out yesterday for the first day of demonstrations during the Republican National Convention.

Police estimated that yesterday's "Unity 2000" march drew only 5,000 participants, and officers had no difficulty maintaining order in the city.

The small, peaceful crowd was a far cry from the violent scene that enveloped Seattle last fall when as many as 50,000 demonstrators protesting the World Trade Organization caused millions of dollars in property damage.

City officials seem determined to maintain control of the streets.

A showdown has been brewing for weeks between activists and the city over a "poor people's march" from City Hall to the First Union Center, the site of the convention.

The city denied the Kensington Welfare Rights Union a permit, but the group's executive director, Cheri Honkala, said "we are going to march on the street" in a single-file line to the convention and "deliver a message."

But other activists said the group will walk along a main thoroughfare toward the convention site and spread out with locked arms across the street. If police intervene, the entire group which organizers say will number in the thousands will sit down in the street.

"That's not going to happen," Police Commissioner John Timoney said, but he would not disclose the department's plan for handling such a situation.

Police so far have accommodated marches and demonstrations through the city without permits. Officers followed and moved alongside the marches and held traffic for the groups yesterday.

"The vast majority of the crowd had a good time and got their message out," Commissioner Timoney said.

But he added, "at the same time, we are always ready for a few small groups who will look to make hay between now and Friday."

Commissioner Timoney declined to characterize those groups, but many activists are preparing to be arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience, such as human barricades. Others, such as the anarchist "Black Block," may vandalize property.

Thousands of activists are in the city to demonstrate against the Republicans, the two-party political system and global capitalism, much like protests against international financial institutions in Seattle last year and the District of Columbia in April.

Police have not arrested any protesters so far and are adopting a "watch and wait" approach.

One injury was reported yesterday. A 34-year-old man jumped on top of a slowly moving truck with graphic pictures of aborted children and tried to put a pro-choice banner on top. The truck accelerated and the man fell off, fracturing his right arm.

An impromptu march against police brutality and for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal wound toward City Hall yesterday. Officers on bikes, on horses, on foot and in cars followed the several hundred people, sometimes moving next to the curb between anti-abortion protesters.

Plainclothes officers in the civil affairs unit walked among the group as well, radioing ahead so police could hold traffic for the march.

The only tense moment came a block north of City Hall, when the marchers approached a contingent of uniformed officers, who quickly formed a line and held their batons across their bodies.

The crowd's energy and chants grew, and the officers marched away, defusing the situation.

"So far, so good," Commissioner Timoney said. "Our uniformed officers are out there for traffic, not crowd control. It's not a show of force."

Most activists spent yesterday walking and chanting in the Unity 2000 march, which featured signs and banners for a variety of views and causes atheism, communism, abortion rights, homosexual rights, animal rights, environmentalism, anti-militarism and freeing Tibet.

Several D.C. activists rigged a mud-wrestling pit atop a flatbed truck dubbed "Corpzilla," where the likenesses of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore fought to the cheers of onlookers.

Other protesters weren't so popular.

About a dozen angry activists surrounded and shouted at John Franklin of Los Angeles, who held a sign calling for "sinners and perverts" to repent and wore a T-shirt that said "Jesus saves from sin and hell."

"I'm with Christians united against demonstrators," Mr. Franklin, 58, joked later.

"I'm here because I ought to be. My conviction is that this place ought to be as flooded with Christians as it is with these people," he said.

A group of Vietnamese men who said they fought against communist North Vietnam in the Vietnam War marched through the throng decrying the human rights abuses in their homeland.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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