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RNC2K protester faces trial in Philly

In a case that may influence the protest rights of all Americans, Providence community activist Camilo Viveiros will metaphorically square off against Miami police chief John Timoney during a trial scheduled to start in Philadelphia on Monday, April 5. Viveiros faces a felony charge of assault for allegedly striking Timoney with a police bicycle during the 2000 Republican National Convention. He denies the charges, saying he’s merely one of hundreds of protesters who have suffered from Timoney’s efforts to silence legal dissent. "The heart of the case," Viveiros says, "is an attempt to spread fear and intimidate social-justice activists."

As a case in point, many such activists point to Timoney’s handling of protests at Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meetings in Miami in November. Miami police, dressed in riot gear, militarized the downtown area and blocked protesters from participating in legal and peaceful demonstrations, according to Amnesty International. They also used pepper spray and rubber bullets to assault and arrest nonviolent demonstrators, according to Gan Golan, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who protested in Miami and spoke during a March 21 fundraiser for Viveiros at AS220, a nonprofit arts emporium in Providence. The sophisticated police tactics used at the FTAA meetings were "the Miami model," Golan said.

Referring to Viveiros’s upcoming trial, Golan told the 50 people who turned out for the fundraiser, "If we can take [Timoney] out of the picture, that’s a lot of damage we can take away from the model."

Citing a televised interview, Golan said that Miami police tested tactics during the FTAA meetings for use in future protests around the US. Timoney told PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, "I’m completely satisfied that we did everything according to the book — the way we planned it." He added that the actions of the Miami police were "the first real realistic, if you will, run-through to see how it would work."

In response, Amnesty International has sought an investigation of the Miami police, and the AFL-CIO has called for Timoney’s resignation.

Viveiros and his two co-defendants are the last to be tried in connection with the 2000 RNC protests, which occurred when Timoney was Philadelphia’s police chief. A total of 420 people were arrested during the convention, including 43 on felony charges; some faced bail as high as $1 million (see "Rough Justice," News and Features, January 19, 2001). Not one of the protesters, however, has received a jail sentence, according to Kris Hermes, spokesperson for the R2K Legal Collective (www.r2klegal.org). Felony charges were thrown out or reduced to misdemeanors for 39 of those arrested, Hermes says. The only felony conviction, he adds, was a plea bargain that provided for probation. In a 2000 Phoenix interview, Timoney blamed the collapse of arrests on a permissive court system, not poor police work.

Still, the arrests and high bails disrupted planned demonstrations, intimidated protesters, and tied up activists in court for years. That was the idea, says Golan, commenting, "You can beat the rap. You can’t beat the ride."

Not-guilty verdicts in the repeatedly delayed Viveiros trial would certainly be a blow to Timoney and his heavy-handed tactics, especially with major protests planned this summer at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, slated to take place in New York and Boston, respectively. In November 2002, Timoney traveled to Boston to advise city officials on convention security, but Karen Grant, communications director for the Boston 2004 Host Committee, says he will not have any role in security arrangements for the gathering.

Viveiros says his friends and supporters (www.friendsofcamilo.org/) have raised about $25,000 to pay his bail and legal fees, including $1100 at the recent AS220 brunch.

Issue Date: March 26 - April 1, 2004
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