Housing organizer Camilo Viveiros couldn't figure out why one tenant was afraid to speak at a rally this past summer. Only after persistent questioning did the man finally admit his fear: "I don't want to end up like you." For the past three years, Viveiros has been organizing with a cloud over his head--allegations, which he denies, that he threw a bicycle at three police officers during a protest at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. He faces eleven charges, including two counts of aggravated assault, which could carry over thirty years in prison.
Along with two others facing lesser charges, Viveiros is the last of the convention protesters to go to trial, scheduled for this spring in Philadelphia. What makes him special? One of the officers Viveiros allegedly attacked is John Timoney, then--Philadelphia police commissioner, who has waged an almost personal war against protesters. On the eve of protests planned for the meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Miami, where Timoney is now chief of police, the case of the so-called Timoney Three could further chill the atmosphere for First Amendment dissent. The chill is already pushing zero, thanks to the Patriot Act, and gives the green light for tactics like those used in Philly.
The 2000 GOP convention set a benchmark for repression by police, who secretly infiltrated activist groups and pre-emptively arrested dozens on trumped-up charges of conspiracy. Tensions boiled over when police on bicycles swooped down on a peaceful march, knocking heads and arresting people en masse, then holding them on bail of up to $1 million. Of the 420 arrested, more than half the cases have been thrown out. Only a few dozen have led to convictions, all on misdemeanors, with the rest disposed of through voluntary fines or probation, according to activists.
Viveiros has been pursued with special vigor. After a judge threw out most of the charges against him for lack of evidence, prosecutors fought to reinstate them, finally winning on appeal. For his part, Viveiros not only denies assaulting Timoney but says he himself was attacked from behind by other officers, his head rammed against the pavement until he blacked out. The first time he even knew the charges against him, he says, was when the commissioner shocked him by pointing him out during a preliminary hearing. "I thought when they say your jaw drops, that was just a poetic phrase," says the soft-spoken Viveiros, sitting at a fair-trade coffee shop in Providence, where he now lives. "I had to grit my teeth to keep them from chattering." Witnesses and video footage of the march contradict much of the police account, and supporters speculate that the case is one of mistaken identity at best, since …