BUST 'EM NOW, PAY LATER
EXACTLY A YEAR AGO, the Republican National Convention provided a stage for Philadelphia to strut its considerable stuff, and the city harvested a ton of good public relations.
Yet, a series of civil rights lawsuits (some already filed, others in the works) offer evidence that the image Philadelphia presented to the world last summer was - at least in part - a charade.
And what a show it was!
- Mass arrests of would-be protesters and some bystanders, many held on astronomical bail, which conveniently removed them - and their messages - from public view.
- Public officials, including our mayor, district attorney and police commissioner, describing those arrested in hyperbole befitting Osama bin Laden.
- The press (including this newspaper, we admit) pretty much taking them at their word.
But when it came time to prove the allegations, the city could not make the cases.
Many charges were dropped for lack of evidence; others failed to impress judges or juries (a minuscule number of protesters were found guilty of anything). But by the time the prosecutions fell apart, the spotlight had moved elsewhere.
Very convenient -and very disturbing to anyone who thinks the 4th, 5th, 8th and 14th amendments to the Constitution ought to mean something in the city where it was written.
Two alleged "ringleaders" filed suit last week in federal court. John Sellers, avowedly nonviolent director of the Ruckus Society, was in prison for six days on $1 million bail, before charges were dropped. Terrence McGuckin, held on $500,000 bail, was acquitted of misdemeanor charges.
On Wednesday, a lawsuit is to be filed on behalf of 70 people in the so-called "puppet warehouse" in West Philadelphia, when it was raided by police. They also, not so coincidentally, were in jail for the rest of the convention week.
The city says it will fight the charges, but if its defense is as weak as its prosecutions, Philadelphia taxpayers will pay a price in monetary damages. Cynics might even believe that this is an appropriate cost of hosting political conventions.
If so, they're dead wrong.
Besides, city officials have squandered any future benefit of the doubt, which puts in jeopardy a repeat performance of these tactics.
© 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.