Ruckus Society "Leader" talks about Charges
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Thu Aug 10 05:36:09 MDT 2000
Activist calls prosecution excessive
OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Aug. 09, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Examiner
Ruckus Society leader says Philly prosecutors aim high to undermine effort
A Berkeley activist who police allege was a ringleader of protests at last
week's Republican National Convention denied he was involved in any violent
acts and criticized authorities for what he called overzealous prosecution
John Sellers, 33, director of the Ruckus Society, made bail and was released
from jail Tuesday afternoon, six days after he was arrested during a protest
in downtown Philadelphia.
Seller's arrest created an uproar among civil libertarians after a judge set
his bail at $1 million - a figure seen as excessive given that he faced only
misdemeanor charges. On Monday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa
A. Richette reduced Sellers' bail to $100,000.
>From his parent's home in Phoenixville, Pa., about 30 miles outside
Philadelphia, Sellers said Tuesday night he had no role in spearheading
protests that led to several hundred arrests - though he acknowledged he had
run a workshop before the convention to train activists in non-violent
"That's not what I was doing in Philadelphia," Sellers told The Examiner. "I
have dozens of people who can attest to the fact that I was mostly on a kind
of observation mission in Philadelphia."
About 390 people were arrested in Philadelphia last week following an Aug. 1
mass demonstration that blocked downtown traffic and led to sporadic
violence in which 15 police officers were injured and nearly 30 city
vehicles were vandalized.
Philadelphia takes hard line
Unlike protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C., where charges against many
demonstrators were dropped, Philadelphia authorities have taken a hard line
against the protesters.
Only 30 have been charged with summary offenses - the equiva
lent of a traffic citation. But of the remaining 360, most face
second-degree misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to two years in prison.
"To persecute people who are practicing a time-honored tradition of
non-violent dissent in this country . . . that is criminal," Sellers said.
"They are criminalizing dissent and criminalizing non-violent protest. I
Sellers said the prosecutors' goal is to dissuade demonstrators from
appearing at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles next week.
A group of defense lawyers led by the National Lawyers Guild, a New
York-based civil rights group, held a news conference Tuesday to call on
District Attorney Lynne Abraham to dismiss criminal charges against
nonviolent offenders and eliminate bail for an estimated 325 defendants who
But Abraham has refused to negotiate. "Get a life," she said through a
spokeswoman. "It ain't gonna happen."
They shall remain nameless
Police said that about 155 protesters remained in jail on Tuesday. All but
10 of the activists have refused to divulge their names - giving aliases
like "John Doe Sparky" and "Aurora Borealis" in what activists say is a show
of jail solidarity. Prosecutors have suggested they could be in jail for
Sellers said some jailed demonstrators have begun a hunger strike, and
others may soon refuse to drink water to force authorities to negotiate.
Sellers is a veteran activist who as a Greenpeace organizer protested
commercial fishermen using miles-long drift nets in the Mediterranean Sea.
On the 50th anniversary of the first sustained nuclear reaction, he and
fellow anti-nuclear activists scaled 24 floors up
the Sears Tower building in Chicago to unfurl a banner reading "End the
50-year nuclear nightmare: Nuclear-free future now."
Sellers has helped run camps in Malibu and Philadelphia to train
demonstrators for the conventions, but he said he wasn't a ringleader as
authorities claim. He said he was accompanying a Los Angeles Times reporter
and two journalists from a Mexican newspaper to watch the protest just
before he was
"The funny thing, the ironic thing is I was talking to those guys about how
ineffective and poorly messaged the (Aug. 1 protest) came off and how the
real message was lost because of what I would characterize as borderline
violent behavior," he said.
Interrogated for hours
After he was arrested, Sellers said he was interrogated for several hours,
mostly by homicide detectives. At one point, according to Sellers, a
detective told him, "The captain said to drop the aggravated assault
(charge) and to throw a bunch of s--- at you."
He wound up with 12 misdemeanor charges, including obstruction of justice,
failure to disperse, conspiracy to block a highway and possession of an
implement to commit a crime. The implement, in this case, was his cell
Despite the charges and a scheduled Sept. 16 court appearance, Sellers said
he plans to be in Los Angeles next week. He hopes the message of the
protest, rather than clashes with police, will be the main story.
"I don't think nearly enough of the message of the entire protest came
through," in Philadelphia, he said. "When people put themselves on the line,
non-violently putting their bodies out there at risk, they really deserve to
have their message heard loud and clear."
©2000 San Francisco Examiner Page A14
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