- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Police yesterday arrested close to 300 protesters in the first violent clashes with activists trying to disrupt the Republican National Convention.
Hundreds of officers were still dispersing rowdy activists off major streets at 8 p.m. and taking individual protesters into custody. By late night, police officials said they had arrested 282 people, including 10 charged with felony assault on an officer. The number was expected to increase.
Pockets of protest groups disrupted downtown traffic for hours, forcing some bus drivers to drop off passengers in the middle of city streets to search for other ways to get to the convention center.
One convention delegate told Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican, how demonstrators wearing black face masks surrounded her bus, yelled at the passengers and banged on the windows.
"It was scary," said the woman, cradling her 7-month-old child.
"It's a free country, but when you are interfering with someone else's freedom, you should ask hard questions of what the real purpose of the First Amendment is," Mr. Goss said. "That sounded like a terrifying situation."
Two officers were injured during the clash with protesters. One was sprayed in the face with an acidic substance, according to broadcast reports, and another was punched in the face.
Also injured was Police Commissioner John Timoney, who said his bicycle was used as a weapon against him.
"I've got a few bumps and bruises, but I'm OK," he said.
Commissioner Timoney witnessed the assault on the officer.
"Some blond-haired guy punched an officer in the face, covered his face with a bandana like the coward he was and ran away," Commissioner Timoney said. "I never took my eyes off him, and I told the [arresting] officer to put my name down on the arrest form. I will take pleasure in going to court on this guy."
Most of the standoffs were peaceful. Activists linked their limbs together sometimes locking and chaining their arms inside metal pipes across city streets.
Police forced standing protesters and reporters out of the streets, then formed lines against the human barricades, often jostling with other jeering protesters who chanted and banged on makeshift drums.
Officers then broke activists' grips, sometimes using batons, and dragged them away in plastic handcuffs to waiting buses as fellow demonstrators shouted "shame" and "nonviolence."
"We're carrying out civil disobedience and disruption against the delegates by putting our bodies on the line and being arrested to bring attention to the criminal injustice system," said Matt Ruben, a member of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group (PDAG), one of the main organizations behind the protests.
Protesters employed a different tactic than they did during protests against meetings of international financial groups in Seattle last year and the District of Columbia in April.
Instead of sending everyone to one target, protesters dispersed in independent "affinity groups" to disrupt traffic including buses delegates used to get to the convention at several key intersections.
According to one bus driver, protesters carrying signs against police brutality suddenly appeared from a side street, cutting off the bus in midtraffic.
The two dozen activists surrounded the bus and brought it to a stop, flanked by photographers, television cameras and as many police officers bringing up the rear on bicycles.
"They know the cameras are on them," said the driver, whose bus was forced to a standstill three times yesterday. "It will get worse when [George W.] Bush arrives."
Doors were temporarily locked at the Philadelphia Marriott while police cleared protesters who had surrounded the hotel where the Texas delegation is staying this week.
A crowd of mostly Marriott guests who were forced to wait in the heat until police cleared the demonstrations booed the protesters as they were loaded into vans and applauded the police.
"Police can attack on many fronts and still not stop the disruption because we're so decentralized and independent," George Lakey, a PDAG spokesman, said of the tactic of dispersed protests.
Activists plan similar civil disobedience and disruption today.
Police reported no serious property damage. They raided a warehouse in northwest Philadelphia where activists were storing puppets. The activists barricaded themselves inside for several hours, but police eventually broke in and arrested everyone.
Commissioner Timoney said police did not serve the search warrant to seize the puppets, but declined to say what officers were looking for. Broadcast reports said officers were searching for lockboxes, chemicals and gas masks.
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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