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Burden of Proof

Republicans National Convention: Will Protesters Crash the Party?

Aired July 28, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, Republicans converge on Philadelphia for their 2000 convention. But will protesters crash the party?


REV. AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: And we don't need permission from anybody to stand up and fight for ourselves. If you don't want to fight for yourself, good, shut up and let me fight for myself.

JOHN TIMONEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: It would be against my nature to be violative of anybody's right to protest, free speech. However, I'm also a strict law enforcement type, and if there's going to be lawbreakers who think they can come in and disrupt the convention, they are sadly mistaken.

SUSAN WHITAKER, DIRECT ACTION GROUP: We will be taking direct action. We will be going into the streets so our voice can be heard by the delegates attending the convention and by the people at home.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

The City of Brotherly Love is opening its arms to the Republican Party, but some uninvited guests may disrupt the celebration. The 37th Republican National Convention kicks off Monday in Philadelphia. It will mark the sixth time the city has hosted the event. But protesters are planning to raid the party. Organizing are predicting the largest group of protesters ever to converge on a national convention. Philadelphia police have pledged to be careful in how they will deal with protests. Early tactics include photo surveillance of protesters.

Joining us from Philadelphia is the commissioner of the police department, John Timoney. And in New York, we're joined by criminal defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt, who once represented activist Abby Hoffman. Also joining us from Philadelphia is Jody Dodd, a trainer with Philadelphia Direct Action Group. And here in our studio, Claudia Boyd (ph), constitutional law scholar Bruce Fein, and Stephanie Williams (ph). And in our back row, Brooke Evenson (ph) and Stephanie Sweet (ph).

Commissioner, first to you: What do you anticipate in terms of demonstrations in your city?

TIMONEY: Well, let me just correct one thing. Everybody is invited, they're just not invited to disrupt the convention. What we expect -- there are a whole variety of protesters and demonstrators coming. An awful lot have registered as far as getting permits, have indicated a desire to work with the police and other authorities.

There are some, however, who have gone on record as saying they're not going to cooperate, and they haven't cooperated with us, and that their intent is to disrupt the convention.

VAN SUSTEREN: Give me an idea of how many people in terms of numbers. Have you figured that out, what you expect to converge in terms of protesters?

TIMONEY: No, it's really hard to tell. You know, usually in policing you don't have enough information. Unfortunately, as a result of the Internet, we have too much information. So, you know, if you count the Internet, it's probably about a million and a half people. But by sense is, you know, some of them may be 14-year-old kids who are joking around on the Internet, you know, saying they're bringing 10,000 irate Irishmen. That's probably not going to happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have groups actually applied for permits, parade permits or permits to be in certain areas?

TIMONEY: Yes, there are two main venues right now. Down at the First Union Center is what's called a "free speech zone" and upwards of 25, and maybe some more, have applied and have been given time to register their voices there.

In addition, tomorrow begins at least two marches tomorrow, Saturday, that are permitted marches. And then on Sunday, there is a huge rally/demonstration/protest by a group called Unity 2000 which is an umbrella organization along the Ben Franklin Parkway. And there is expected tens of thousands of folks to show up for that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bruce, give me a little lesson. I mean, the idea of getting permits, what ever happened to the First Amendment right to protest? It isn't absolute, is it?

BRUCE FEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR: No, there are always time, place and manner rules, and the Supreme Court has upheld the authority of localities to impose certain area restrictions on free speech where exercising in another place would be incompatible with the purpose of a legitimate activity. And so, for example, there are limitations on what you can do in Lafayette Park here in Washington, D.C. The question in every case is whether or not the area restriction is reasonable. And what the commissioner has described seems to me to provide ample opportunity for those to voice protests. So, on its face, I would see nothing wrong. Now, what the Supreme Court has held is that if there is an attempt to challenge the constitutionality of such rules and there's a loss, you can't go ahead and defy a court order saying you're enjoined from going beyond your license, you've got to provide recourse through the appellate process or else you're vulnerable to being held in contempt of court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gerry, contrast this with -- for me, if you would, with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. How does this compare, to you?

GERALD LEFCOURT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, then there was a policy by the city of Chicago to prevent the demonstrators from really exercising their First Amendment rights. Mayor Daley wouldn't give them a permit for the park and it led to confrontations. If they simply would have allowed the protesters to do what apparently Police Commissioner Timoney is encouraging, is to exercise their First Amendment rights and protests, instead of trying to keep them out of the park at night, there wouldn't have been the riots there were. Indeed, ultimately, it was called the "police riot" in Chicago even though there was a trial brought on by the Republican administration when Richard Nixon was elected president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Commissioner, tell me: Where does -- where, in your view as the commissioner, is the line where it's lawful and unlawful in terms of demonstrating? Where does it become a crime?

TIMONEY: Well, in two areas. One, if public safety is endangered, or the free flow of traffic. Again, I think Gerry or somebody mentioned, within reason -- if the actions of the protesters become unreasonable and block major intersections and create a hazard for emergency vehicles, that begins, if you will, the process of crossing the line. You then add -- if it becomes the issue of vandalism or assaultive behavior on police officers, it just begins to escalate from there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Commissioner, in terms of technology, in terms of even like the Internet, surveillance cameras, all those types of things we now have that we didn't have, for instance, 10, 20 years ago, how has that changed your work in terms of confronting, you know, the First Amendment, people coming to protest?

TIMONEY: Well, clearly, the age of television and hand-held cameras has changed policing, I think, forever. And I'll just point to Rodney King, and we had an embarrassing situation ourselves about two weeks ago in Philadelphia. I think, overall, it's good because it's an extra set of eyes, if you will, looking at the police. I am not, for example -- my own personal opinion -- I'm not a big fan of cameras in public locations. I can understand, you know, at banks or the doorways to residences, but to have cameras, for example, like it is in Washington Square Park, in a public park, I'm kind of against those things.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. And when we come back, how protest organizations train novices to get out their message. Stay with us. (BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

The Arkansas prosecutor seeking to disbar President Clinton says she'll agree with a 30-day delay if a trial could be completed by the end of the year. This week, Clinton's lawyers requested the delay, arguing that his presidential duties have not left him enough time to prepare for the case.



VAN SUSTEREN: Protesters in Philadelphia are hoping to disrupt the Republican National Convention. Among the recommendations from the group's trainers: don't wear sun screen, and wrap your head with a lemon juice and vinegar-soaked bandana.

Jody, first to you, you are a trainer, why that advice?

JODY DODD, PHILADELPHIA DIRECT ACTION GROUP: Well, that advice is because of what we experienced in Seattle and in Washington, excuse me, and those are ways of counteracting the effects of pepper spray, which we are sincerely hoping won't happen here, but I think it would be unwise of us to not prepare.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jody, now you are a trainer, are you training people to violate the law? or to protest within the law?

DODD: What I'm training people to do is the time-honored practice of civil disobedience and risk arrest. If things go well, from what I've heard Chief Timoney say, people may not get arrested, if indeed people are acting in a peaceful way. We are doing direct action. We do plan on taking to the streets. That may involve civil disobedience, and we are explaining to people what their risks and what their responsibilities are.

VAN SUSTEREN: Give me an idea of how many people you think you have trained for Philadelphia?

DODD: For Philadelphia, we have probably trained -- I haven't talked to people at the training center this morning, but I know that, as of last night, we trained several hundred people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gerry, how does that compare to 1968? is this a new concept, training people how to protest? or is this old?

LEFCOURT: No, no, it is very, very old, and it's well established. And the reasons are obvious: Sometime the police do things that are inappropriate. They divide demonstrators, they get scattered. Where do they go if they get scattered? How do they get back together? How do they maintain their influence? Also, what happens if you get arrested? What should you be doing? What should you be saying?

All of these things have been the subject of training for demonstrations for ages. And civil disobedience is as American as apple pie. Of course, the civil rights, you know, people in the South did it, Martin Luther King was arrested over and over again, and anti- war activists the same way. So all these things are typical.

VAN SUSTEREN: Commissioner, does the training that's done by Jody and the training that Gerry has talked about, does that make your job harder or easier? what's your reaction to training people to do this?

TIMONEY: Oh, I think it's always in the interest of both sides that that happened. What we hope happens, also, is that -- that some individuals don't stray, and then cause mayhem for everybody else concerned. Because by and large, when things get out of hand, it often isn't the entire protest group, but it a few knuckle heads that infiltrate and they are out to cause chaos and mayhem, and before you know it, all hell breaks loose.

LEFCOURT: Greta, I just wonder whether Chief Timoney understands that the protesters need to make a point, and sometimes the media won't cover them unless they are making a strong point, and that might mean some confrontation. And whether the chief is willing to allow that, in some way, to understand that television is not going to be there unless there is something interesting about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Commissioner, what about that? I mean that sort of does raises sort of an interesting point. I mean, in all likelihood, television is going to be more interested if there is a problem, you don't want a problem, and the protesters want their point across, so they are going to provoke a problem. I mean, you are sort of caught between a rock and a hard place, are you not?

TIMONEY: You know, Gerry is absolutely right. The television cameras play to theater, as does the, you know, the tabloid press. There is an article in today's "Daily News" that is completely wrong, the "Daily News" down here, but it is what sells paper, it is what gets ratings. So we understand that. The problem that I can't ever tolerate is assaults against police officers or serious property vandalism. Absent that, we can talk.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jody, what about this issue of the provocation, which really means, you know, pushing the envelope as far as provoking it so it gets attention so the media follows it. I mean, is that something within your training?

DODD: Well, I think that one of the things you also -- people ought to be prepared for in the streets is, yes, we understand that we have to really push the envelope on some levels, in terms of being in the streets and refusing to leave the streets. But also, we plan on pageantry and fun. We have billionaires for Bush or Gore, we have puppets, we have theater planned. So we plan on having a lot of fun in the streets as well.

And I think that the things we're planing, in terms of the images, will capture people's imagination and hopefully our issues will get spread in that way as well.

And I think that I would agree with Police Chief Timoney, if an officer is assaulted, our expectation is that, if someone is assaulted that they need to be dealt with. And that is not what our plan or our strategy is, and that's not what we are plan on doing in the streets.

LEFCOURT: Greta, they have an interesting thing in Philadelphia. I was down there last night. And Philadelphia, of course, has the prisoner, the ex-Black Panther, or present Black Panther, Mumia, sentenced to death. And there are a lot of groups down there, since George Bush is the governor of a state that executes one person a week.

There is an awful lot of anti-death penalty protests, and this group that I was before last night in Philly, Refuse and Resist, is going to make that a major issue. And I think that a lot of people should be interested in what they have to say, and not only what's going on inside the convention.

FEIN: Yeah, I think those statements are basically, seem to me, to amount to an incitement to law violations. These are statements...

VAN SUSTEREN: Which statements?

FEIN: The statements that they are encouraging that the protests occur beyond the permitted areas that have been set aside by the commissioner. They will go to the streets, that they will make obstructions, they may not assault a police officer, but they may invite arrests just so that you can have the handcuffs on and the media may cover that.

DODD: Excuse me?

VAN SUSTEREN: Some people -- I have represented demonstrators in the past, who deliberately want to get arrested because that's how the point is made. You know, typically, it is a non-violent situation, you get hauled away, you pay a $25 ticket, and you give your speech and you leave. I think what everyone is worried about, more so, is the risk of violence.

Jody, you wanted to get?

DODD: Yes, I do. I want to clarify to Bruce, because he was saying that they have been given plenty of opportunity. One thing you need to know about the protest zone is that it was limited to 50 minutes a group, and it was also limited in terms of the space. The space cannot hold near what we are expecting to be in Philadelphia, one; two, the parks are not being open to us at night. We, in fact, asked for the city parks for people to camp and we are told they can't. We are having a housing crisis so this -- while there are permitted rallies and demonstrations during the actual convention, there are not permitted demonstrations going on.

FEIN: Yes, but you have a full opportunity to challenge those in court, if you want to allege those are violations of the First Amendment. And until you prevail in court, the Supreme Court has made it clear, you can be held in contempt, and otherwise...

VAN SUSTEREN: Which I think, Bruce, though, is typically the point, is that the protesters are willing to take the heat for that. But that was the point. We need to take a break.

Up next, how the city is planning on dealing with these possible, or maybe probably, protests. Stay with us.


Q: What Philadelphia lawsuit was settled this week, 18 years after it was filed?

A: A complaint claiming that the city's prisons were overcrowded and had poor conditions, prompting a federal judge to take control of the facilities since 1982.



VAN SUSTEREN: We're taking you now to Philadelphia where CNN's Jeanne Meserve is standing by -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Greta, Governor George W. Bush is on his way here to Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention, campaigning on the way. Right now, he speaking in Springdale, Arkansas, home turf of President Bill Clinton.

Let's listen to what he has to say.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an honor for us to be here with such distinguished officials -- well, officials. The governors here. We're honored, governor, you would take time, and the first lady of Arkansas, to take time to be with us today.

The Hutchinson boys, who graduated from high school right around the corner. Sounds like the boys brought a few of their relatives here.

Congressman Jay Dickey, from Southern District of state of Arkansas. Thank you for coming, Jay.

It's -- it might surprise you, of course, Congressman Blunt from the great state of Missouri us here, my friend governor of Montana, Governor Rosco is here.

Tony Garza, another great friend of mine, elected statewide official in Texas is here.

I tell why we are all here because we are king of working our way toward the convention.

At least that's why we are together. So it may come as a surprise to you that in the midst of all this politicking, our campaign decided to stop at the Jones Center, and we did so for a couple of reasons: one, we wanted to see firsthand a -- the actions and the compassion and the energy of people who hear that universal call to love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself.

There is something so powerful in that message. It's much bigger than government. It comes from a higher calling. It's a message that affects our hearts. But when properly channeled, it's a message that can affect people's lives in such a constructive and positive way.

So we're here to see and feel and hear firsthand the acts of this particular platoon in the army of compassion. You see, the great strength of America, I'm going to tell you what the great strength of our country is. The great strength lies in the hearts and souls of decent and caring and loving citizens. That's where the great strength of America is.

MESERVE: Speaking in Springdale, Arkansas, talking about compassionate conservatism, a subject you will hear much more about during the Republican National Convention.

Now back to Greta in Washington.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Jeanne, we are back to BURDEN OF PROOF, and we are talking about the convention in Philadelphia, and where there is a possible protest which may lead to arrest.

But Commissioner Timoney, before we end this show, I want to just ask you a question. Back in July, a man was arrested and there was a very controversial tape of that arrest. Can you tell me the status of that investigation?

TIMONEY: That investigation is rather complex, the videotape is 28 seconds, the tail-end of a 21-minute multiple car chase involving a car-jacking, a shooting, a stolen police car. That investigation probably will not be concluded until probably early fall.

But it has no impact, really, on how we policed this event. We've been training for almost a year now on how to police this event, and we are very confident that we can pull it off, literally, without a hitch.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gerry, you know, that is sort of the concept, everyone seems to have a video camera now to take pictures of things that happen. But you also had television cameras back in 1968. During the Abby Hoffman case, did you use television camera -- the footage in the courtroom?

LEFCOURT: They're always used in demonstration arrest cases. Usually it's, of course, subpoenaing the media footage, but now, with all the hand cameras, everybody has one.

VAN SUSTEREN: Speaking of cameras, let me just put up on the screen a sort of fun picture to sort of jazz -- or give Gerry a little hard time. We have some pictures of Gerry Lefcourt from 1968, a very young Gerry Lefcourt standing next to his client Abby Hoffman, and of course that is all related to the demonstrations.

LEFCOURT: Those were the good old days! Just after hearing George Bush with that hogwash, I think I'm going to be in the streets again.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm sorry Roger wasn't here to jab you as well with these photos, Gerry. But that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on CNN's "TALKBACK LIVE," the legal fight surrounding Napster. Will the Web site's music sharing program be shutdown today? That's today, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, noon Pacific.

And join us, Monday. Roger and I will be hosting BURDEN OF PROOF from the site at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. We'll be doing that all week long, and we'll bring you the legal stories surrounding the 2000 campaign and how November's election will impact the law. Join us next week for special coverage of CNN's BURDEN OF PROOF.



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