Who Will Watch the Watchers During the DNC?

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Photo: Liora Engel-Smith/The Declaration

By Liora Engel-Smith

Kelvyn Anderson of the Police Advisory Commission, Philadelphia’s civilian police review board, said that he and his three staff members would monitor police behavior during rallies around the Democratic National Convention next week.

The four-day convention, which will begin on Monday, will attract an estimated 35,000-50,000 demonstrators a day. To date, the city has permitted 27 marches and rallies, but there are rallies not sanctioned by the authorities that are being organized over social media too.

With four staff members Anderson’s team is small, but he said they would focus their efforts on high-impact areas like FDR Park, where most protests will take place. “We’ll watch those areas where police and protesters are going to be very close, obviously those are the flashpoints for activity,” he said.

And regardless of the team’s size, Anderson said, their presence at the protests is important. “We also feel pretty strongly that it’s our responsibility as the city’s oversight agency to be there and see what happens,” he said.

Anderson said he does not expect the protests to get out of hand as they did in the 2000 RNC, which led to 470 arrests and numerous complaints about unlawful police tactics. “I think we have a different police department now than we did then,” he said.

Officers handled other protests, such as the Occupy Philadelphia encampment near City Hall in 2011, much better. “It wasn’t perfect, [but] it was certainly better than RNC,” he said.

The commission will also monitor complaints about police conduct. “As opposed to other cities, we have a veteran activist community in this town who understands what their rights are and I think [they] will certainly not hesitate to file complaints and do what’s necessary,” Anderson said.

And his four-member team won’t be alone. Ten Amnesty International observers will also monitor DNC rallies independently of Anderson’s team, according to spokesperson Robyn Shepherd.

Activists around the city will also join in, with collaboration between several groups in the city: legal collective Up Against the Law, the Pennsylvania ACLU and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said Michele Grant of the NLG. The Pennsylvania ACLU helped protesters whose demonstrations were denied permits sue the city.

Over the last few weeks, Up Against the Law has provided “know your rights” training to protesters, answering questions about what to do in the event of arrest during a demonstration, as well as providing insight into what to expect afterwards. In addition to sending a handful of legal observers, the collective will operate a 24-hour arrest hotline and will provide pro-bono legal aid to demonstrators who get arrested during the DNC.

The Philadelphia NLG will send dozens of observers to all corners of the city in teams of two to three. “We’re gonna be spreading people around according to our capacity and we expect to have a good number of people to cover just about everything,“ Grant said.

NLG observers, who will wear bright green hats, will document police activities. “We’re just there to watch what happens, see what the protesters do, see what the police do and watch out for unconstitutional police tactics,” she said.

Anderson said he hopes the protests will be peaceful. “We hope that our police officers maintain their professionalism, [and] allow people to express their opinions as they should,” he said. “But if things go south, as they can, we hope that, number one, no one gets hurt and, number two, [that] if there are arrests, that they’re dealt with appropriately.”

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