Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2001 in the Austin American Statesman
A Son's Protest at the Republican Convention
by Laura Burns
Philadelphia police arrested my younger son, Edward Burns, as a demonstrator Aug. 1 during the Republican National Convention.
Edward had recently visited me before returning to graduate school at the University of Maryland. He told me he planned to demonstrate, but that he would do nothing confrontational and would try to avoid arrest.
On Aug. 8, a young woman from the r2K Legal Collective phoned to ask if my son had been released. That's when I found out about the arrest. I told her I didn't know. When my calls and e-mails to him for the next few days weren't answered, I began to suspect Edward's plans to avoid trouble had failed.
I couldn't find out anything from Philadelphia authorities because of "jailhouse solidarity." Protesters had given their names as John or Jane Doe. Though the protests weren't widely covered, luckily we live in the age of the Internet.
A Web page about the protests, www.thepartysover.org, gave grim news regarding jail conditions, high bails, bad food and abuse. The police had charged 420 protesters; 275 were still in jail as of Aug. 9.
It was hard to get information from the source most likely to have it, the r2k Legal Collective. They acted secretively, not wanting his name mentioned because "this isn't a secure line."
So what if the authorities might find out that one of those hundreds was named Edward Burns? (Later I learned he approved of the tactic, feeling that mentioning names could cause police to single out "leaders.")
I sent them a contribution anyway.
Finally, they learned he was among the last 100 holdouts who would not give their names. This was typical, the child was hardheaded, and had stayed an individual even during his teen years in Round Rock. Still, I felt he was brave, but foolish. Why not just give your name and get out?
My lawyer sister was going to have an attorney friend in Philadelphia check around, but on Aug. 15, Edward e-mailed that he was out of jail. Regarding his family's disparagement of his "voluntary" long jail stay, he wrote:
"Jail solidarity is a method of putting pressure on the jail system in order to achieve some concessions. By having a large group of people withhold their names, refuse to cooperate, go on hunger strike, etc., it is possible to press for certain demands, e.g., same charges for all protesters, least charges possible, release with time served, etc."
This had worked elsewhere, he said, but in Philadelphia, "they had studied our tactics and were determined not to let them work. They probably also wanted to detract from the effectiveness of the Democratic National Convention protests in Los Angeles by keeping RNC demonstrators locked up for a long time, preventing them from going and also thereby intimidating other potential demonstrators."
At his hearing Sept. 23, Edward learned that the Philadelphia prosecutors erroneously believed he had been arrested for burglary in California. This kept him from being among those offered a fine and having his record cleared after six months. For six misdemeanor charges, bail was $10,000. Luckily it was "signature bail," meaning he didn't need to put up money, but they could come after the amount if he didn't show up for trial. He said the highest bails were for Philadelphia activists.
I thought a mix-up of names caused the arrest-record error, but this wasn't so. The fingerprints were electronically matched. My son called to see whether someone could compare them, but learned he'd have to go through a complicated application process including being fingerprinted again.
After three trial postponements, Edward was acquitted Jan. 25, along with about 20 co-defendants. The judge, Seamus McCaffery, an ex-police officer, denied a motion to recuse himself. The motion was because of his July statement that he and other judges were working with police to ensure that people arrested during the convention would stay jailed at least three days (until the convention ended). Edward feels that the acquittals resulted from the attention caused by allegations of bias.
Edward wrote: "He concluded our trial with a speech about the importance of protecting our first amendment rights, noting that we are a lost generation (perhaps not including the middle-aged defendants), unlike the activists of the '60s, who were `real pros.' He stated that we would eventually get rid of the dreadlocks, dyed hair, piercings and tattoos, have kids, get good jobs and become golf-playing Republican suburbanites."
Burns lives in Round Rock but has never played golf.