Phila. Protesters Promise Disruptions
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ About 120 Democrats peacefully posted 20 flags representing Spanish-speaking countries as a protest greeting George W. Bush’s arrival here Wednesday for the Republican National Convention.
Outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Bush was addressing a Hispanic audience, the demonstrators said they were unhappy with Bush’s record on Latino issues in Texas.
A few blocks away, an additional 100 protesters chanted and held signs to protest the Citigroup bank’s environmental and lending policies.
Forty demonstrators denouncing the death penalty and calling attention to other issues chanted and waved banners at an entrance to a downtown arena where Bush was arriving for a fundraiser. They were surrounded by about 50 police officers as Bush entered through another door.
The first demonstrations Wednesday contrasted sharply with the angry brawls with police a day earlier. Protesters, however, promised more disruptions and Philadelphians returned to work downtown with feelings of uncertainty.
Police said 350 people were arrested, most for misdemeanors but 10 charged with assaulting police. Police Commissioner John Timoney was one of 15 police officers slightly injured in clashes between police and protesters.
Anthony Demento, who was forced to close his newsstand during the protests, said, ``People couldn’t go home, they were stranded in office buildings.″ He said of the protesters, ``What is their real problem? They should protest in front of government officials, not working people.″
The protests seemed to cause only minor problems for convention-goers, though some state delegations were late for the Tuesday evening session. Most protests were far from the First Union Center arena where the gathering is being held.
Tuesday’s clashes came after three days of mostly peaceful protests over a variety of issues, including treatment of the homeless, the death penalty and police actions.
Some protesters acknowledged they tried to provoke police into fighting.
``We will continue to put our bodies on the line to show how police resort to violence even when they do not need to,″ said 17-year-old Jesse Wilson. ``They could arrest people peacefully for painting on cop cars, but this is an authoritarian state, so they feel the need to beat us.″
Other demonstrators were upset about the more confrontational behavior.
``If it gets like this again, I’m going home,″ said Patricia Maxey, a 16-year-old member of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. ``I don’t want to be beaten up because some idiot in a mask wants to get on television. I came here to talk about injustice.″
Fights broke out and the commissioner was slightly injured when nearly 100 protesters dressed in black clothes and wearing masks began damaging police vehicles.
Timoney noted that they matched the appearance of masked anarchists who wear black and were blamed for extensive property damage in Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting last fall. Several of Tuesday’s protesters identified themselves as ``black bloc″ anarchists, who have had a large presence in Internet discussion groups planning for the convention.
``These people were here to cause problems, not protest or talk about issues,″ Timoney said, referring to a group of self-proclaimed anarchists. ``We will be watching for them the rest of the week. They are here to endanger property and assault officers and that is what they did.″
Also Tuesday, a bus full of thousands of caged lizards and small animals was pulled over in what police say may have been part of a plan to release animals during a protest. Two men were arrested and are to be charged with cruelty to animals.
Philadelphia Zoo officials accepted the animals, which included about 2,000 iguanas, a dead skunk, white mice, about 20 exotic snakes, crickets, desert toads and lizards.
At least six officers were treated and released from area hospitals, medical and police officials said.
Protesters slashed tires on police vehicles, dumped orange paint on some and spray-painted obscenities on others. Graffiti denouncing the death penalty and police also were sprayed on City Hall.
Police responded with batons after being hit by protesters. Several protesters were bleeding after being struck.