Newspapers bragged the day after the DNC that there were “zero arrests made by Philly police during DNC protests.” There were over 100 citations issued, however, but Philly Mayor Jim Kenney emphasized the respectability of the DNC in contrast to the RNC, as most Democrats did in their speeches all week. Mayor Kenney made the DNC appear more civil by being able to claim zero arrests were made, even though nearly 5 times as many activists were issued citations in Philly than arrested in Cleveland. In June, Mayor Jim Kenney signed legislation that reduced the penalty for so-called “nuisance crimes” like disorderly conduct and obstruction. “The bill, introduced by City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., turned the punishment for nuisance crimes from criminal summary citations into essentially tickets,” Philly Voice explained.
Activists around the nation hardly noticed the few actions happening at the RNC in Cleveland, where only a total of 23 demonstrators were arrested. Cleveland BLM didn’t get involved in the convention, and many other activists didn’t want to waste time trying to change Trump’s positions and deal with Trump’s ad hoc redneck security. Instead, the attention was on the DNC, where thousands of Bernie supporters were expected to attend from July 25-28. Philly activism was much more appealing than Cleveland’s. Philly BLM hosted one of the largest DNC rallies on July 26, but even prior to the DNC the Philly BLM organization occupied the first highway in the nation over the death of Alton Sterling on July 6, where roughly 11 demonstrators were arrested for blocking the highway.
Philly arrests appeared again on July 20, when six Reclaim Philadelphia activists (including me) were arrested for performing a sit-in inside the lobby of the DNC Headquarters, demanding the release of the financial records of the $60 million raised in private by the DNC Host Committee. My picture appeared in Philly.com that night with a solemn face and an American bandanna around my neck, and I was recognized from this picture by strangers at the DNC. The July 20 arrest signaled to other activists to risk arrest at the DNC without fear. The Progressive Standard contrasted the number of arrests at the RNC to the six arrests at the DNC, under the title: “23 Protesters Arrested During Entire RNC. Six Arrested Before DNC Even Begins.”
Then on Thursday, July 21, at least 10 clergy members were arrested for performing a sit-in at the Philly International Airport to protest the low wages and unfair treatment of American Airlines employees. But Philly authorities wanted to have a peaceful image, while underlining the fact that they would ensure law and order. On July 24, the day before the DNC began, my picture appeared in a Philly.com article that quoted Philly police as saying they were “absolutely ready” to secure safety at the DNC. Mayor Kenney was quoted at the press conference as well: “Our goal is not to arrest anybody.”
The majority of the arrests from Monday, July 25 – Thursday, July 28, can essentially be attributed to the non-partisan group Democracy Spring, as well as to individuals who participated in Democracy Spring’s D.C. arrests from April 11-18, 2016, when over 1,300 persons were arrested to get big money out of politics, in the largest civil disobedience action in the 21st century. Democracy Spring used its famous reputation to reignite mass arrests at the Philly DNC. Over a dozen core members lived in a Philly house for two weeks, planning actions for each day of the DNC. Democracy Spring held nonviolent civil disobedience training’s nearly every night of the DNC inside a Philly church.
The largest arrest at the DNC for a single action took place on Monday, July 25, when 54 people were arrested for a Democracy Spring action outside the Wells Fargo Center. Demonstrators first attempted to block a convention entrance on Broad Street with a planned sit-in, and some even attempted to hop over the police barriers, reported CNN. When the demonstrators approached the entrance, they were met by a line of Philly police, who used their bikes to prevent anyone from entering. One Democracy Spring member arrested that day described the arrest process as such: “We sat down for nearly two hours, continuing to chant while we one-by-one jumped a three-foot tall metal barricade that had been set up.” Demonstrators nonviolently climbed the barrier, with some even receiving help from police, and were zip-tied before being bused to the station and issued a $50 citation for “disorderly conduct.” Democracy Now wrote that police arrested TeleSUR journalist Abby Martin as she tried to access the blocked-off area. “She says she was following the police’s instructions when an officer grabbed her, tore her dress and handcuffed her.” Hundreds of demonstrators stood in support of those getting arrested, as seen in Democracy Spring’s live coverage.
But just like every other day at the DNC, the protests were largely ignored by the media. This point was made most clear by CNN. As CNN was performing live coverage of the sit-in, the network abruptly cut away from the protest in order to cover the R&B group Boyz II Men. Other networks failed to properly credit the organization Democracy Spring, or misrepresented the organization’s goals in its coverage. A New York CBS article wrote that “more than 50 people after they tried to storm the barricades outside the Democratic convention Monday evening in a show of anger over Bernie Sanders’ treatment by party leaders, even as he urged his supporters to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton.” Too bad Democracy Spring didn’t protest over Bernie Sanders, but in fact protested big money out of politics, restoring voters rights, as well as other reforms that would restore power to the individual voters.
Although news coverage was shallow and lacking on the first day, the massive arrests at least gained attention to the fact that more demonstrators were arrested on day one of the DNC than the amount arrested during the entire RNC. Cleveland Fox News 8 cheerfully reported the next day that there were “twice as many [persons] detained Monday than those arrested during the entire RNC in Cleveland.”
Arrests on Tuesday were postponed, after Democracy Spring decided to support the BLM rally that day instead. According to Philly Magazine, four persons were actually arrested on Tuesday night around 8:30 P.M. for climbing over the security fence. These four Bernie supporters were taken in by Secret Service, “making them the first DNC arrests.” CBS Philly wrote that the four persons were initially provided a minor citation – just like the 54 citations the day before – but while they were detained they were subsequently arrested by Secret Service, and charged with a federal offense. Protest lawyers responded by charging that the demonstrators rights were violated. Newsworks reported the following day that the “4 DNC fence jumpers” were released. These four arrests received more publicity than most arrests that week, probably because of the federal charges set against them by the Secret Service, and also because of the arrest of a 69-year old grandmother. Philly.com, NJ.com, Sputnik News, L.A. Times, ABC, WGN TV, Metro , US Today, and many other news outlets wrote about these four arrests.
On Wednesday morning, July 27, about 10 demonstrators were cited for staging a sit-in at the Comcast Center, as over 20 demonstrators cheered in support outside. The majority of individuals involved in the arrest were part of the D.C. Democracy Spring arrests in April, but this action was not affiliated with Democracy Spring. Luigi Costello of Florida led the sit-in action, and previously worked with Democracy Spring in D.C. in April. CBS Philly quoted Costello saying he wanted the media to “stop entertaining, start investigating.” Occupy DNC individuals carried the same message outside the building, calling MSNBC the new conservative Fox News. Philly Voice ignored the 41 other arrests at the DNC that day, and wrote the popular themed, but misleading title: “Ten cited in Comcast Center sit-in on quiet Day 3 of DNC protests.” Overall, the Comcast sit-in received major news coverage, including by NJ.com, ABC, and Associated Press. USA Today wrote that by Wednesday afternoon, 69 citations were issued overall.
On Wednesday night, activists brought the heat by staging a mass protest outside the gates of Wells Fargo Center. At least seven activists were arrested around 10:50 P.M. by Secret Service for entering a restricted area. They were dressed in all black with their faces covered. One of those arrested was charged for approaching the eight-foot fence with “throwing knives,” according to Philly.com (it was later reported that this individual was a paramedic who carried the knives to “cut gauze and bandages,” and prosecutors did not add a weapons-related charge to the indictment). CNN, Independent, Fushion, American Renaissance, RT News, Philly Magazine, Courier Times, LA Times, Fox and a long list of online papers covered the rally as well, with several reporting on the potential violent weapon held by one of the persons.Once again the press picked up on this arrest more than others because of the federal charges by Secret Service and the possible threat of violence. The press by then already expected the biggest protests to occur outside the gates of the Wells Fargo Center, and set up cameras there for the show. RT News wrote that demonstrators “clashed” with police that night, and gained more excitement for the article by posting several videos of the large sea of demonstrators and police. These seven arrests along with the four arrests on Tuesday resulted in a total of 11 activists being arrested by Secret Service. An August 8 article by Newsworks reported that the four Bernie supporters arrested on Tuesday had their charges thrown out by the Feds, but that the other seven still faced charges of up to a year in prison.
At the front entrance of the Wells Fargo Center that same night around 9 P.M., Democracy Spring led the second largest DNC arrest, when 34 activists were arrested for a staged sit-in at the first public entrance of the Wells Fargo Center. One gentleman arrested re-fractured several fingers after he was pushed from behind and fell to the ground. Video footage could be used to determine if he was pushed by a stranger or a police officer. I was one of the 22 men arrested that night, and we were released that same night with a $50 citation for “blocking a highway.” The charge can possibly be thrown out since we didn’t obstruct traffic on the highway because the highway itself was shut down all week by police. But the sit-in by Democracy Spring was a last-minute action put together, after police warned organizers that jumping the fence would lead to federal trespassing and prosecution, unlike Monday’s arrests that were merely $50 citations. So only after we were threatened with actual arrests did we decide to protest out front of Wells Fargo Center.
But there was very little press coverage about the second biggest arrest the DNC. Probably because every individual was nonviolent and because Secret Service did not need to get involved. The arrest also happened around the time President Obama spoke, and reporters merely ignored the reports the next day, just as they did with most of the Democracy Spring arrests. But then again, the 7-person arrest was widely covered, despite occurring more than an hour after Democracy Spring’s action. An article the next day by USA Today was titled: “As Obama speaks, chaos and arrests outside DNC,” but the article only spoke about the actions of the 7-person arrests, and didn’t once mention the Democracy Spring arrest from the same night. CNN briefly mentioned the 34-person arrest, but it was overshadowed by the 7-person arrest that night. A New York Times journalist merely posted a live stream video of the arrests on her Facebook.
On Thursday, July 28, Philly activists from the DNC Action Committee, along with individuals from Democracy Spring’s April arrests, organized theater action with a staged court hearing outside the Wells Fargo Center, calling for a “citizens arrest” of Hillary Clinton due to election fraud. The press release caught the attention of The Daily Dot, Philly Magazine, and even conservative blogs. Late Thursday night and into early Friday morning, after a thousand people voted in support of the citizens arrest outside Wells Fargo Center, three individuals vowed to get arrested in an attempt to make a citizens arrest against Hillary Clinton. US News released an article on July 29 about the attempted citizens arrest, under the title: “Citizen’s Arrest of Hillary Clinton Fails, Ending Week of Defiant DNC Protests.” The three individuals arrested were Andy, Brian and Emily, who were all involved in Democracy Spring at DC in April. The three activists attempted to cross the line of Philly police bicycles, but were pushed back by police. Unable to break the bicycle barrier, the three of them staged a lengthy sit-in. U.S. News reported: “The activists understood from the beginning it would be them, rather than Clinton, who wound up behind bars.” Andy amused reporters and officers by explaining that he was arrested for trying to issue a citizens arrest against Hillary Clinton.
Democracy Spring’s official protest on Thursday was an inside job at the Wells Fargo Center. Three car loads of Democracy Spring members entered the Wells Fargo Center that night in an attempt to interrupt Hillary Clinton’s speech. Although not reported on by the media, a Facebook video showed Democracy Spring members explaining the group’s message of getting big money out of politics. Democracy Spring members were ejected from the event but not cited.
Philly.com reported that police estimates by Thursday evening showed that Philly Police issued 103 citations and that Secret Service arrested 11 persons for jumping over security fences. Nine of the eleven arrested were released Wednesday and Thursday, and the final two persons were released Friday. But this press release was issued by the police prior to the 3 arrests for the citizen’s arrest action, bringing the total to 106 citations. “Despite Simmering Tensions, Few Arrests at Conventions this Year,” read the title of HeatStreet’s blog. At the Philly RNC in 2000, over 400 activists were arrested.
Police abuse was lower than expected, but intimidation was obvious. Most of the week the cops outnumbered activists in any one area. Batons were out and in the hands of the officers, which is a terrifying sight for people who are trying to apply and maintain their right to free speech. Police issued zero citations for marijuana smoking, however, which in Philly could have been a $100 ticket for anyone smoking in public. No one was cited on Monday, when several thousand people marched from City Hall to FDR Park with a 51-foot inflatable joint, as hundreds smoked openly without incident. Then on Tuesday, July 26, more than 30 persons smoked at Thomas Paine Plaza for the smoke-out organized by the East Coast Cannabis Coalition, and again police watched from a distance without acting. Dozens also smoked on Thursday in another march with the inflatable joint. I smoked at the first two events myself, and I also smoked at nearly every action that week without incident. It’s possible that police were ordered not to make needless arrests or citations, and were possibly even restricted from citing anyone for cannabis.