In less than six months, Philadelphia will host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Tens of thousands will descend on the city between July 25th and July 28th, seemingly without the lockdown that accompanied Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia’s last fall. Of course, in addition to the thousands of politicos and media, this summer’s convention will also bring very vocal, very visible demonstrations.
Though the DNC will occur less than a year after Pope Francis’s visit, Philadelphia is already a different city. Mayor Nutter has left office, replaced by Jim Kenney, who will be about seven months into his first term as mayor. Charles Ramsey has retired as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, replaced by Richard Ross. This will be their first national event as leaders of Philadelphia. Are they prepared? History has some valuable lessons to offer Philadelphia as it prepares for the convention.
In 2000, when the city was the host for that year’s Republican National Convention, the City settled claims that its denial of permits to groups of protestors was unconstitutional, ultimately allowing for demonstrations in Center City. During the convention, almost 400 protestors were arrested, but most of the criminal cases filed were dismissed. A group of about 75 were arrested in a raid of a puppet-making workshop involving 180 officers and three helicopters. The City paid to settle 15 civil rights lawsuits, along with attorney fees. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Los Angeles payed millions to settle lawsuits alleging civil rights violations of protestors and bystanders during the 2000 Democratic National Convention for about.
Denver – a much smaller city than Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or New York – paid six figures to settle lawsuits arising out of its indiscriminate mass arrests during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. To settle the civil rights claims of thousands who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention, New York City paid a record amount. The approximate total settlements from Los Angeles, Denver, and New York are below:
Los Angeles: $4 million
New York: $18 million
Moreover, thousands have been arrested during the Democratic and National Conventions since 2000, but less than 5% of those arrested have been convicted; most cases are either dropped or result in an acquittal. Indeed, law enforcement’s approach to managing mass demonstrations in other cities has been costly.
The situation is not unique to the quadrennial political conventions. Mass demonstrations against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 – certainly on the mind of the organizers of the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia – resulted in mass arrests. Mass arrests and attendant civil rights violations of 400 people followed demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. in 2002 (where former Commissioner Ramsey was police chief before coming to Philadelphia). Pittsburgh, host of the 2009 G20 Summit, attempted to restrict demonstrators’ access to public places and engaged in civil rights violations of protestors. The approximate settlements from civil rights lawsuits that followed in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh are below:
Washington D.C.:$22 million
There are other potential liabilities Philadelphia should consider as well. Public resources also go into the process of arresting and prosecuting demonstrators. Protestors who cannot afford bail and are jailed will have to endure overcrowded conditions that could lead to additional litigation. The challenges Philadelphia and its new leaders will face when hosting the Democratic National Convention are unavoidable. Unless the city learns from the lessons of recent history, it will face significant costs. No American city has ever improved its public image by indiscriminately rounding up crowds of hundreds for exercising their constitutional rights.