With just four months before the next Republican National Convention in New York City, a Philadelphia judge acquitted the last three activists arrested at the 2000 GOP convention. Judge William Mazzola found Camilo Viveiros, Eric Steinberg and Darby Landy not guilty of rioting and assault against police officers (including against the head of the Philadelphia police, John Timoney) at the trio’s trial on April 6 after viewing videotape that contradicted the testimony of the police. The videotape “came from a couple that were part of a larger team documenting police interaction with demonstrators,” Viveiros told the World.

Civil liberties activists criticized then-Police Commissioner Timoney for the arrest of hundreds of people that turned out to protest the GOP convention. Some protest leaders were arrested and charged with “possession of an instrument of crime” – cell phones and handheld data organizers.

Timoney, who is now chief of police in Miami, has also been under heavy criticism because of the over 200 arrests of peaceful demonstrators protesting the meeting of Western Hemisphere trade ministers discussing the establishment of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). The AFL-CIO, one of the sponsors of the anti-FTAA protests, said the labor federation “will be working to pursue justice in the courts, in the halls of Congress, and at the polls.” They have also demanded the resignation of Timoney, an independent investigation into the police actions and the dropping of “all charges against peaceful protesters in Miami.”

Viveiros, a Massachusetts tenant organizer, said he was in Philadelphia to attend the March for Economic Human Rights organized by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). The KWRU had been denied a permit for their six-mile march to the site of the GOP convention and the city was threatening to take the children marching with their parents into custody, Viveiros said.

Viveiros added, “The police were selective in who they arrested for demonstrating without a permit,” noting that police officers demonstrating in favor of the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal were left alone, while anti-School of the Americas protesters across the street were arrested.

Viveiros accused the Bush administration of trying to “criminalize dissent” and said he did not regard the acquittal a victory “solely for me” but as “a gain for all peoples’ movements to take to the streets for justice.” He added that the victory “won in the courts was dependent on the hundreds of community organizations that saw the threat against me as a threat to their freedom.”

The author can be reached at j.a.cruz@comcast.net.

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