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Long after the Republican candidates had wrapped up their speeches, the confetti had been swept up and the delegates had returned home, numerous “guests” of the city were taking their leave via a 10th-floor courtroom in the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center. For one protester from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the Republican National Convention festivities included a “10-day, all-expenses-paid reality tour” of the city prison system. Jennifer Kates, 20, of Furlong, Pa., was arrested on Aug. 1 along with approximately 70 others in a raid of a West Philadelphia warehouse where activists claimed their only crime was crafting puppets to be used in street demonstrations. Kates, one of those arrested that day, was released on her own recognizance Friday, three days after she provided her actual name to police. Until then, she had assumed the name Jane Doe along with hundreds of other detainees. According to her parents, William and Beverly Kates, who were in the courtroom on Friday, Kates assured them that she had no interest in participating in any direct-action protests during the convention. Kates, a Quaker and National Merit Scholar finalist, chose to use her artistic talent in a behind-the-scenes setting as she had for the World Bank protest in Washington, D.C., last April. “This city is the birthplace of democracy,” William Kates said. “Mayor Street decided to place higher importance on political convention business than in protecting citizens’ constitutional rights.” Greg Magarian, a professor of constitutional law at Pennsylvania’s Villanova University School of Law, described some of the issues surrounding the warehouse arrests as “problematic.” Without further information, he said, it would be premature to characterize police activity described in press accounts as clear-cut violations of protesters’ civil rights. Until the search warrant is made public, or evidence is presented at trial, Magarian said, it is anyone’s guess what led police to arrest the warehouse activists. “They would have to have a legitimate interest and duty to serve, and not just a hostility toward the protesters and what they were doing,” Magarian said. A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said there would be no official comment until the cases are heard in open court. On Tuesday, Aug. 1, Kates was inside the warehouse when police surrounded the building. Police charged each member of the warehouse group with nine misdemeanor counts including reckless endangerment of persons, obstruction of the administration of law, disorderly conduct, obstruction of a highway and conspiracy to commit the former four charges as well as possessing the instrument of a crime. Bradley Bridge, a public defender who has worked for the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 17 years, was present during the arrests which resulted from the warehouse raid. Bridge said he received a tip from the ACLU that the protesters wanted an observer present who would ensure their rights were not violated. Bridge assisted in the negotiations between the police and activists, which led to what he characterized as a peaceful surrender, with protestors emerging one by one to be photographed and taken into custody. One of the three terms of surrender he negotiated was that police would release the suspects if they did not find anything illegal during the search. According to Bridge, the only items found during the multi-agency search were chicken wire and PVC pipe, materials allegedly used to make devices called “lock-boxes” that protesters use to link arms and block traffic. No lock-boxes were found, but the police, bomb squad, Secret Service and ATF agents discovered several puppet heads containing chicken wire. “I don’t know why the police didn’t release them,” Bridge said, “unless they had a problem with bad art.” Villanova’s Magarian, who focuses on First-Amendment issues, described the charges against high-profile protesters such as Ruckus Society leader John Sellers of possessing an instrument of a crime — which turned out to be a cell phone — as “mind-boggling.” Magarian compared that situation to the arrest of a known drug dealer for using a cell phone where there is only an assumption that he is engaged in a drug deal. The arrest has more to do with the identity of the suspect than with any discernible criminal activity, he said. Magarian said that unless the police had a method of determining exactly what protesters were saying, the arrests appeared to be pre-emptive in nature. “After all, speaking on a cell phone while walking on the street is a pretty tame act,” Magarian said. Last Friday, police officers led 47 protesters, 10 at a time, before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa Richette, who released them on their own recognizance. The proceedings were periodically chaotic due to computer glitches as well as the difficulty of matching numerous John and Jane Does to their real names on their paperwork. The judge warned each of them to stay out of further trouble and return for trial or face a bench warrant. Bradley Bridge represented a majority of the protesters who had spent the better part of two weeks in jail. He conceded that their stay was lengthened by their own refusal to provide police with their real names. When Judge Richette asked them for permanent residence information and employment status, many said they would be returning to their homes to face irate employers or perhaps unemployment. Kates, who worked this summer as an Americorps volunteer and who is also involved with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, said she inadvertently joined the ranks of those whose activities were designed to disrupt the convention. Her mother described her background in nonviolence as solid and of long duration. Kates was instrumental in establishing the curriculum for the Bucks County Summer Peace Camp for Youth, which teaches children skills in cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution. Both William and Beverly Kates expressed concern that their daughter, who they say possesses a strong social conscience and is dedicated to non-violence, may have a criminal record as a result of her recent arrest. One thing she definitely has, according to both her parents, is a sudden interest in improving prison conditions. A status hearing for Kates has been scheduled for mid-September.

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