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(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Amnesty International USA: What We Saw at the Convention Protests

By Eric Ferrero, Deputy Executive Director for Strategic Communications and Digital Initiatives

Amnesty International USA deployed a team of independent human rights observers to monitor protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Simply put, our goal was to help make sure that everyone’s human rights were respected and protected.

Over the last two weeks, our team observed dozens of protests, demonstrations, and marches by people expressing views across the political spectrum, so that we could monitor whether law enforcement authorities were facilitating people’s fundamental right to protest peacefully.

We saw thousands of people exercise their rights to take to the streets peacefully and express an opinion. At times, we saw a heavy police presence in both cities, with police mostly ensuring that people could protest peacefully and safely. We’ve documented good police practices, some questionable issues with safety and coordination, and some areas where we’re still gathering information and context, particularly around arrests and detentions.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll outline our findings for law enforcement officials and policymakers, to capture lessons for how people’s human rights to freedom of assembly and expression can be protected. In the meantime, here are 10 moments from Amnesty’s human rights monitoring at both conventions:

  1. In Cleveland, the city designated a Public Square where individuals and groups came to express a wide range of views throughout the week.
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2. At times, such as the afternoon on the second day of the convention in Cleveland, police appeared to outnumber protesters in the Public Square.

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3. Spontaneous marches happened in both cities, including this one in Cleveland, and police blocked traffic to ensure that protesters could express their views peacefully and safely.

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4. Police in Cleveland arrested several people for not complying with an order to disperse; Amnesty’s monitors are still gathering information about why and how that dispersal order was made

5. Official march routes in both cities stretched for several miles. This march in Philadelphia, led by Black Resistance, ran for more than five miles, from Temple University to City Hall and on to the convention center on the South side of the city.

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6. In both cities, protests at night immediately outside the convention centers were among the most heated and tense, including this one in Philadelphia.

7. Police in Philadelphia made several arrests and issued dozens of citations; Amnesty’s observers are still learning more about this arrest and others.

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8. In both cities, police separated protesters and counter-protesters, and everyone was allowed to continue expressing their views. In Philadelphia, hundreds of counter-protesters created a “Wall of Love” when anti-LGBT protesters held a demonstration outside of a health center.

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9. Multiple protests sometimes combined into one march in both cities, including this one from City Hall in Philadelphia to the convention center.

10. In Philadelphia, the city’s fire department opened hydrants along a march route to help protesters, police, and media cool off during a major heat wave.

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