Justice in Philly (Finally)
This is an update to Michael Blanding's "A Warning for Miami" in the December 1, 2003, issue.
Just a few months before this summer's Republican National Convention in New York, the last three protesters to go to trial on charges stemming from the GOP convention in Philadelphia in 2000 were acquitted of all charges this week. The case was a particular victory for Camilo Viveiros, who faced thirty years or more on charges including aggravated assault against then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney in a scuffle the three protesters allegedly had with police.
After a two-day trial in Philadelphia's Common Pleas Court, Judge William Mazzola issued a terse ruling on April 6, saying that while he had no doubt the officers were assaulted by protesters, "the only thing I have doubt about is who did this. [I doubt] that it was any of the three defendants in this room, who I acquit of all charges."
Taking the stand that morning, Timoney hardly seemed the fearsome cop who has been denounced for hard-line tactics at demonstrations, including last fall's Free Trade Area of the Americas protest in Miami, where he is now Chief of Police. Sitting in a three-piece suit and yellow tie, Timoney seemed hazy and confused, several times contradicting testimony given during a preliminary hearing about whether he had grabbed or even identified Viveiros after being struck from behind by a bicycle.
Viveiros's case was bolstered by a videotape made by protesters showing that not only was he not near Timoney when the presumed assault took place but that he was arrested across the street several moments later, not at the scene as Timoney had previously testified. The video also contradicted testimony by other officers that Viveiros had resisted arrest by punching and kicking them--instead showing officers tackling him and punching him several times as he lay on the ground, unresisting.
"I feel vindicated. This was a victory not only for me individually but for social movements that utilize the street to struggle for justice," said Viveiros, a housing advocate from Massachusetts, standing outside the courthouse after the trial. The case brings to a close the long ordeal of the more than 400 protesters arrested at the Philadelphia convention--with only a handful convicted of misdemeanors and the rest thrown out or disposed of by fines or probation. (One case involving eight defendants is still on appeal.)
Those results, says Viveiros, are a clear condemnation of overzealous arrest tactics like those used in Philadelphia and a warning for police at this summer's RNC: "This sends a message to the police in New York that they can't get away with criminalizing dissent."