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News :: Human Rights
The Right to Dissent and the Trial of Camilo Viveiros
01 Apr 2004
April 7 is the beginning of the trial in Philadelphia of community organizer Camilo Viveiros. This is the last of the criminal trials from the 2000 Republican National Convention. Will a steadfast and dedicated political organizer beat the fate of political imprisonment or will Police Chief John Timoney begin to be exonerated?
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Before the tear gas even cleared the skies over Miami last November during the FTAA Summit, union leaders, civil rights advocates and even Amnesty International were calling for Police Chief John Timoney's resignation.

Even major daily newspapers from the New York Times to the Miami Herald penned editorials condemning the suspension of Constitutional rights in Miami during the Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit and the simultaneous creation of a police state.

While city officials and Timoney claim that police "showed a tremendous amount of restraint", video footage and eyewitness experience tell a very different story. A story that, not surprisingly, resembles the events that took place during the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia while Timoney was serving as Police Commissioner.

Police brutality, civil rights abuses, large-scale pre-emptive arrests and absurdly high bails marked a turning point in police response to the movement for global justice in the U.S. Instead of arresting people for what they did, Philadelphia police under Timoney's command arrested people for what they might have done. Nearly all of the 400+ protest arrestees in Philadelphia have had their charges dropped and or reduced, except Providence, RI resident Camilo Viveiros who appears to be Timoney's last hope for justifying the actions of his department during the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Viveiros is one of three people still facing trial, but he is the only one with felony charges. His co-defendants Darby Landy and Eric Steinberg had their charges reduced and cases separated. Viveiros' charges were also reduced by a judge in October 2000, but pressure from Timoney led to an appeal by the City D.A. to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which reinstated several of the charges in December 2001. A subsequent appeal by Viveiros' lawyer, Bob Levant was denied by the Supreme Court.

With five misdemeanors and six felonies, including assault with intent to murder, Viveiros is facing between 15 and 40 years in prison. People who know him, and lots of people do, find the charges to be ludicrous. Supporters of Viveiros believe his case could set a "dangerous precedent" for people who employ civil disobedience as a method for social change. If convicted, many fear he will be used as an example to discourage others from expressing dissent.

A tenant organizer in Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts for the past eight years, Viveiros is known for his soft-spokeness and intense dedication to improving the lives of people in need. His work for the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD has brought him in contact with hundreds of people including state and local politicians. Friends of Camilo has solicited letters of support on Viveiros' behalf from hundreds of people including Congressmen Barney Frank and James McGovern as well as the entire Boston City Council.

Besides attesting to his commitment to social justice, many of the letters highlight Viveiros' non-violent organizing tactics and dedication to democratic principles. Providence City Councilman Miguel Luna, who worked with him on a project to improve neighborhood safety remarked, "I was most impressed with his ability to teach members of the community how to avoid confrontation with the police in a peaceful and composed manner."

In contrast, after recent events in Miami, Timoney has been referred to as a "bully with a badge" and derided for his "paramilitary response" and had his tactics for maintaining social order, compared to those of Saddam Hussein.

A photojournalist from the Miami Herald, embedded with Timoney and his force on the major day of action witnessed two disturbing acts of police misconduct by the Chief himself. "...Timoney, for no good reason, grabbed a kid and stood by as two other officers dumped the kid's backpack onto the sidewalk to see if he had any rocks inside the bag. He didn't." Later that day, the same photojournalist watched as Timoney rode his bike up to a protester being arrested and said, "You're bad. Fuck you."
Viveiros is not surprised by the reports of police brutality coming out of Miami. His account of the day he was arrested sounds eerily familiar to those of protesters from Miami.

Recalling the events of August 1, 2000, Viveiros said he left a rally in opposition to the death penalty in front of Philadelphia City Hall as part of a group of "celebratory and upbeat" demonstrators. However, a few blocks later, he recalls that the tone of the march shifted to apprehension as organizers with walkie-talkies began receiving messages that police were headed toward marchers. At that point, Viveiros says he started walking down another side street.

"Maybe a block and a half down I was grabbed from behind by a police officer and I was pulled back to 17th St. where I was pushed on the sidewalk face down and was hit and kicked repeatedly. My head was banging on the sidewalk and I could hear people yelling for a medic before I was knocked unconscious."

After being assaulted by police, Viveiros was then charged with some of the very actions that were done to him. Supporters of Viveiros point out the prevalent police cover up tactic of charging those who are attacked by the police with aggravated assault.

Many believe that even if Timoney was attacked by protesters on August 1, 2000 like he claims, Viveiros has wrongly been accused. The evening of Viveiros' arrest, Timoney made a statement saying he was attacked by one of the largest protesters on the street. At 5'9 and less than 140 lbs, Viveiros is hardly considered a large or imposing man.

Ironically, on the day of his arrest Viveiros was attending events against police brutality and the prison industrial complex. Now at the center of a case himself, Viveiros is reluctant to become a glorified symbol for the movement. Instead, with an organizer's perspective he hopes, "What worries me about focusing time and energy on repression is that their strategy is to distract us from our work and the community outside of the legal system. If we stop doing the organizing that builds larger and stronger movements than the hope to challenge injustice either in the courts or in our communities is weakened."

His case, while a distraction from local organizing efforts, has also been a success in terms of bringing diverse people together and raising awareness about police brutality issues amongst populations who would not normally see it up close.

As a tenant organizer, Viveiros works with seniors, disabled, single parents and low income families, many of whom now have a better understanding of how selectively first amendment rights are enforced in this country. On the downside, some of those same tenants are much more fearful of the repercussions for standing up for what they believe in.

When this happens Viveiros tries to remind them that what will ultimately prevent situations such as his is a stronger movement built from the ground up through organizing around community issues.

Global justice activists have long contended that police departments are protecting the rights of corporations and the wealthy to gut health and social services programs, repeal environmental regulations and labor protections, while simultaneously suppressing the rights of people to question the status quo.

Viveiros believes the actions of Timoney and his various police departments clearly lend credibility to this assertion. "The function of repression is to protect systems of oppression. For everyone that is exploited, someone is benefiting from their exploitation. For those who benefit their fear of being outnumbered necessitates even small resistance be taken seriously as a threat."

As the global justice movement nurses its wounds after Miami, several conclusions are being drawn. Among them is the idea that solidarity across tactical and political boundaries is necessary, that community outreach pays off and that pursuing legal action against Miami may be one act that can "stem the tide of repression."

The case of Viveiros and his co-defendants may be another. If the legal battles in Philadelphia are any indication, the FTAA legal battles could take years, which means a victory for Viveiros could help support cases in Miami.

"That's one reason why it's so important for people to support Viveiros and his co-defendants at their trial on April 7," said Lori Shemanski, a volunteer with Friends of Camilo - Boston. "Camilo has spent his life working for justice; we need to work together to make sure that he receives justice."

Until now, Timoney has only been able to refer to direct action activists in general terms. If Viveiros is convicted, supporters fear that he could become a poster-boy for Timoney's media scare campaigns.

"They don't need to arrest everyone," said long-time friend Chris Bull. "If only one innocent person is jailed for attending a peaceful protest, the victim is democracy; our rights - to speak out, to assemble, to protest - are meaningless if we are too terrified to use them."

How to Help...
See: about more ways you can help defend our ability to dissent and protest, and support Camilo Viveiros. Letters of support and donations are urgently needed to counter the attempts to villainize and incarcerate Viveiros.

From the 25 List of Things You Can Do to Support Camilo:
-Download the petition from and get signatures.
-Sign on-line petition yourself:
-Join many others in writing a letter of support. Get an organization you are in to write a letter also. Guidelines at Fax to (877) 240-9517.
-Publicize information about Camilo's case in publications like group newsletters, mailings, listserves or website.
-Download flyers and information packets from the website and distribute them.

With over three years since his arrest, Viveiros' legal fees have started to added up. In early 2003, FOC thought they were all caught up, but subsequent trial postponements have resulted in an additional legal time. "We know that we will not get justice in Philadelphia without a political and legal struggle. We also still need to raise over $30,000" said Lori Shemanski."
Make a donation to help with legal fees (checks or money order can be made out to "Friends of Camilo" and send to: Friends of Camilo, P.O. Box 23169, Providence, RI 02903.
See also:

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Correction on trial start date
03 Apr 2004
It appears that the trial will actually start on Monday, April 5, rather than April 7 as reported above. A jury trial had been planned, which meant that the 5th and 6th would be spent on jury selection and the trial would start on the 7th. But it now seems that it will be a bench trial (i.e., with a judge rather than a jury). So things will start on Monday! Please do what you can to lend your support.
Re: The Right to Dissent and the Trial of Camilo Viveiros
03 Apr 2004
Is having a bench trial instead of a jury trial a good thing or a bad thing? Sounds kind of fishy to me.
Re: The Right to Dissent and the Trial of Camilo Viveiros
03 Apr 2004
Whether it's a good or bad thing is debatable, though not necessarily worth the time to debate. Both have their drawbacks, and it varies a lot based on the judge.

But the decision is made by the defendants. Camilo has two co-defendants, and if any of the three of them asked for a jury trial, they would get it. This is just conjecture, but presumably, one of them had asked for a jury trial but recently decided they'd rather have a bench trial.

I know this sounds fishy, but I actually doubt that it's nefarious. If Camilo wants a jury trial, he presumably can walk in on Monday and ask for one (after all, he has a constitutional right to a jury trial). I have no idea what kind of legal strategy Camilo has discussed with his lawyer, but I trust his judgement.

Hope that sheds some light on the process. The change DOES make things more complicated for those who were planning to go to Philly Wednesday or later, since now it seems likely that, starting on Monday, it will be over by the end of the week. But hopefully, this won't be a big problem for getting the witnesses there and such.

And hopefully, everyone reading this will sign the online petition at, send a letter of support, and make a donation (info at We need to keep this strong organizer in the community.
Camilo Viveiros Trial Update--Day One
06 Apr 2004
Monday was the first day of the trial of Camilo Viveiros and his co-defendants, Darby Landy and Eric Steinberg. Many people across the wide range of supporters are wondering what happened.

This author is NOT in Philly, but I've talked with a few people down there who have been very busy and haven't had time to write an update. I offer the following small report based on what they told me, and I apologize that it isn't more detailed. I take responsibility for any errors in it and apologize in advance.

The trial today was focused on the prosecution presenting its case. Three police officers testified to the events of August 1, 2000, and answered questions from defense lawyers (Darby, Camilo, and Eric all have separate lawyers, which I believe is standard for multi-defendant trials). There were a number of supporters in the courtroom, and more are expected to come for the trial and vigil outside the courthouse starting Tuesday.

Tuesday, two more prosecution witnesses are expected to testify, one of them being former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney. Then the defense is expected to begin to present its case, either later Tuesday or on Wednesday. The trial is likely to end by the end fo the day Thursday (the court is closed Friday for Good Friday).

There is still a little bit of time to write letters of support for Camilo, but they have to be in ASAP. If you've planned on writing a letter for the last few years but never gotten to do so, now is the time. There will be no more delays--the trial is happening!

Because of time pressures, we ask that you fax letters toll-free to 1-877-240-9517. Please follow the letter-writing guidelines in the "Help Out" section of the Friends of Camilo website at

Donations, of course, are also always needed. Anyone who can should make checks out to "Friends of Camilo an send them to Friends of Camilo, PO Box 59177, Philadelphia, PA 19102. But letters are more urgent--there will be time to pay off the debt after the trial.

For those in Philly or who are able to travel there, there are plans for a vigil outside the court. There are specific guidelines laid out that accord with Camilo's legal strategy. We implore anyone who truly wants to help Camilo to follow these guidelines, which can be found at in the "UPDATES" section. Follow the top link, titled "Trial is Beginning on April 5."

That's all for this first update. I hope to have another noe tomorrow. Please stay tuned, spread the word, and give Camilo your support.

Phone: 1-877-240-9517
Address: Friends of Camilo, PO Box 59177, Philadelphia, PA 19102 06 Apr 2004
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