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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Protesters Disrupt City but Not GOP Gathering

Activism: With chaos the stated goal, they set off roving street battles with police and disrupt traffic. At least 280 are arrested.

August 02, 2000|TINA DAUNT and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHILADELPHIA — Making good on a promise to bring chaos to the host city of the Republican National Convention, 2,000 protesters fanned out across downtown Tuesday, shutting down major intersections as delegates sought to travel from their hotels to the convention's evening session.

Police officials said at least 280 people were arrested and 20 patrol cars damaged during a roving series of street battles around City Hall. Three officers were injured. One suffered serious head injuries after being beaten, and two were taken to a hospital after being doused with some type of caustic liquid. Authorities did not release further information on their conditions.

At several downtown locations, police joined ranks to disperse crowds of demonstrators. Officers on horseback and on bicycles played a cat-and-mouse game with one group of 200 people who ran in and out of traffic along several city blocks.

"Our strength is chaos; we have nothing else," said Kehben Grister, 22.

Most delegates, however, managed to make it to the convention's evening session without incident.

"We were concerned about this happening," said police Lt. Susan Slawson. "The protesters came with the intent to shut down streets, to interfere with the RNC. They did not interfere with the RNC. We have sufficient resources to handle this."

McCain Temporarily Affected by Protests

Among those caught in the chaos--if only temporarily--was John McCain, who was scheduled to deliver a speech later in the evening. Protesters had overturned dumpsters outside the Warwick Hotel where the senator from Arizona was having dinner. A group of New York delegates inside the hotel were told to step back from the windows.

The confrontations between officers and groups of mostly young people protesting a variety of injustices--from the death penalty to urban poverty--provided the clearest picture yet of what might be expected later this month when Los Angeles plays host to the Democratic National Convention.

Among those witnessing the street melees was Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who was accompanied by several nervous bodyguards. The mayor smiled but was unavailable for comment as he got into a black Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows and drove off.

"Who the heck is that?" a young male protester with a scruffy beard asked.

As Tuesday's protests reached their peak during the afternoon rush hour, one group of demonstrators danced in a circle on Arch Street, near the hotels housing many delegates and Republican Party dignitaries.

"Police run the city!" they shouted. "We can shut it down!"

Other protesters punctured the tires of police cars. A Tiffany & Co. jewelry store downtown was vandalized by protesters armed with paint-filled balloons.

At a news conference late Tuesday, police displayed piano wire and other objects they said protesters had used to block intersections.

The first hint of trouble came hours earlier, about 2 p.m., when a police SWAT team and dozens of other officers served a search warrant on a West Philadelphia warehouse that served as a gathering site for several of the protest groups.

Activists said the building contained nothing more dangerous than a collection of large puppets to be used in protests. They had dubbed the building their "ministry of puppetganda."

Police said, however, that they had "information" that the activists were storing devices at the site--including sections of pipe, portable fences, chains and bottles--that would be used to block traffic in central Philadelphia.

"Their intention was to shut down the entire city," said Deputy Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson.

Another group of demonstrators blocked the entrance to a key expressway for at least two hours by forming a human barricade.

Throughout the afternoon, Philadelphia's television news stations were aswirl with reports and rumors about the protests and the police response. Perhaps the strangest report involved a red-orange school bus that was being towed to the Philadelphia Zoo.

According to the local NBC affiliate, which followed the bus with its helicopter, the bus was filled with poisonous toads, iguanas, lizards and skunks that protesters intended to set loose on the city streets.

The protests continued into the evening, even as the first speakers began to address the assembled delegates a few miles to the south in the convention hall.

At 7:15 p.m., police on horseback surrounded one group of protesters near City Hall. The officers moved the crowd back, threatening to arrest anyone who was found behind the horses. A brief skirmish occurred as police took one man into custody and the crowd momentarily began a rapid retreat with some shouting a chant borrowed from the anti-war protests of another era: "The whole world is watching!"

Across from City Hall, a poster hanging on a sculpture depicted a fist with the word "Resist." Signs held by demonstrators read "Stop the Texas killing machine."

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