Bernie Sanders‘ devoted followers were careful to pick up after themselves and wore hats embroidered with a dove to remind everyone to remain peaceful. And the police, instead of hauling demonstrators off to jail, issued them $50 tickets for disorderly conduct and released them with a complimentary bottle of water.
As the Democratic National Convention drew toward a close Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia police reported making a four-day total of only 11 arrests, and officers and protesters alike were credited with showing restraint and courtesy.
The rallies and marches that some feared would result in violence and mass disruptions instead brought a festival-like atmosphere at times to City Hall and Broad Street.
“I’m very happy so far with everyone,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. He said his officers “took pride in what they did all week. Very patient, tolerant and courteous is what I was hearing from a lot of people.”
Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of Pennsylvania’s American Civil Liberties Union, said the department’s hands-off approach helped keep things calm.
“This is what it looks like when you just let people get their message out: lots of expression and very little conflict,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, in addition to the 11 people arrested, about 100 protesters had been ticketed and fined. The ticketed demonstrators were briefly detained, their hands zip-tied behind their backs, but not technically arrested.
Less than two months before the convention, the city passed legislation allowing police to write the equivalent of traffic tickets instead of making criminal arrests for many nuisance crimes, such as disorderly conduct, blocking a street and failure to disperse.
“I think it’s helped,” the police commissioner said. “What it does for us is that it gets people in and out of our hands. We’re able to get people back on those lines and keep things moving. I’m sure people appreciate being written up for a citation and handed a bottle of water.”
During the Republican convention in Cleveland last week, a heavy police presence and fewer than expected protesters helped authorities maintain order. Only about two dozen arrests were made.
In Philadelphia, the number of protesters was likewise much lower than expected. About 35,000 protesters each day were anticipated. But the turnout on Monday was put at about 5,500, and it dwindled to 1,500 by Wednesday.
Stifling humidity and temperatures in the high 90s may have kept the crowds down. Also, a severe thunderstorm that rolled through Monday evening scattered protesters gathered outside the Wells Fargo Center on the convention’s opening night, and heavy rain cut short a Sanders rally on Thursday afternoon.
Police de-escalated situations by separating groups of opposing protesters but allowing them to continue to express themselves, said Eric Ferrero, an Amnesty International deputy executive director who helped oversee teams of observers in Philadelphia and Cleveland.
“What we have seen so far in Philadelphia is largely peaceful protests around the city and police protecting people’s right to protest,” he said. He also gave credit to demonstrators, who are “protesting peacefully and who have a strong point of view they want to get across, but do it (in a) peaceful and orderly fashion.”
Andy Billotti, a Sanders supporter from Middletown, Maryland, has been protesting all week and said the police have been excellent. He also said the protesters have been courteous.
“Berners are a peaceful group,” he said. He attributed that to their general mindset and a desire not to “put a bad light on Bernie Sanders.”
Weeks before the convention, Philadelphia clergy teamed up with a legal collective to hold a series of workshops for demonstrators on protesting nonviolently.
Throughout the protests, some demonstrators have urged others to remain calm. It happened Tuesday night near the Wells Fargo Center when one demonstrator was shaking a temporary crowd-control fence and others told him to stop. He did.
Police also showed patience with protesters outside the convention hall. Demonstrators climbing the fences Tuesday were helped down safely by police before the officers zip-tied their hands. On Wednesday night, officers smiled and talked with protesters, allowing them to secure their belongings before taking them into custody.
Philadelphia wanted to avoid a repeat of 2000, when it arrested more than 400 protesters at the Republican National Convention, only to see most cases end in acquittals.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.