Philly cops raids activists who circulated anti-CCTV petititon

Privacy activists in North Philadelphia who circulated a petition opposing the spy-cameras that were going up in their neighborhood were busted by cops on a warrantless raid. The police captain later gave a press interview where he called them a "hate group" and said he hoped to " drum up charges against them."
He said he isn't a member of any political group, but he said he and others in the house recently circulated petitions that raised questions about the appearance of surveillance cameras in the neighborhood and about the beating of three suspects by police that was seen on a TV video.

Moffat said police did not mention damage to any surveillance camera when they arrived Friday morning. He said Wilson had told him police had received a complaint that the residents of the house were living there illegally.

Link (via Futurismic)


  1. And even if it is a “hate group”, hate speech is deemed political speech as far as the first amendment goes. And all political speech is protected by the first amendment.

    So hate away, you anti-CCTV haters.

    Of course, the above-mentioned police captain might instead call it seditious speech. No first amendment protection for that.

    If only there were an amendment against drumming up charges.

  2. I just can’t believe the quotes. My mind boggles.

    9th District Police Capt. Dennis Wilson:
    “They’re a hate group. We’re trying to drum up charges against them, but unfortunately we’ll probably have to let them go.”

    Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore (on why officers entered without a warrant):
    “they had probable cause to believe there was trespassing or even burglarizing.”

    I wonder, if the irony in that was pointed out to him, if he could see it.

  3. OMFG!!! That’s my friend dan! This is so absurd. The article says the police thought they were trying to build a bunker on the roof. Ok if by bunker, you mean awesome green house and gray water recycling shower.

  4. He said he isn’t a member of any political group, but he said he and others in the house recently circulated petitions that raised questions about the appearance of surveillance cameras in the neighborhood and about the beating of three suspects by police that was seen on a TV video.

    oop, there you go. just questioning CCTV cameras won’t get you busted, but criticize the police with evidence like that and watch the abuse of power flow.

  5. So… it´s a crime in Philadelphia to hate inanimate things? Like, let me see… Mondays or Streetlights?

  6. It’s so weird to be wanting to defend hate, but we are supposed to have the liberty to hate things if we want to, aren’t we?

    I mean, aren’t I at liberty to not like things?…anymore?

  7. This is a great reason to sue. We have rights, but they are not static. When are rights are violated (which happens all the time), we have to do something about it. Sue the shit of them. I know several civil rights lawyers that would love this one. Kiss several million dollars away, Oh City of Brotherly Love. Ha ha.

  8. What a mess. From another article:

    Now that he’s had time to think — and 10 hours in police detention gives you time for introspection — Dan Moffat concedes things might have gone better if he’d cooperated.

    When officers came to his door in Francisville Friday morning about 10 a.m. asking to speak to the owner of the property where he and three roommates were living, he said the guy wasn’t home.

    Even though he’s been co-owner of the place since 2004.

    And when they said they were going in anyway to investigate a complaint, he says he probably shouldn’t have tossed the keys behind a gate where the cops had to fish them out.

  9. @11-
    So one forfeits all of their constitutional protection when they don’t roll over for the cops?

  10. Ahh. I always enjoy reading stories from WWII Germany and its Gestapo methods.

    The uncontrolled power! The free reign to intimidate and oppress! The power to destroy people, not directly, but by stigmatizing them. By making others afraid to associate with the wrong crowd. Everyone complies out of fear they could be investigated next. Not despite, but because it can happen to anyone of us.

    The self-assuredness that you’re living in a country where you can arbitrarily restrain anyone, deprive them of their freedom, their rights, their possessions. The highhandedness of blatantly made-up reasons. No fear of judicial review, you’re always right by law. No one left who dares to speak up against the unlimited authority of law and order. The unabashed perversion of the legal system.

    Wait… Philadelphia, 2008?

    #2 astrochimp: “If only there were an amendment against drumming up charges.
    No, no, we don’t need that. There were no “charges”. It was just a harmless “investigation”, see?

  11. @Argon…

    Those 2 paragraphs are very spot-on to describe Nazi oppression in WWII.

    But I’m not sure what the comparison does…

    trivialise Nazi atrocities?
    over-exaggerate Philadelphia cop crap?
    prevent to come up with new “foul” cards?

  12. Makes you wonder if this is happening all over the country. The beginning(or the last nail) of the Nazi state that I believe we’re heading towards.

    Kash is King.

  13. In no way trying to excuse the cop’s actions, which seem ridiculous, I do wonder what would have happened if Dan had said “I am one of the owners, and I do not consent to your entry of this house.” Would they have left? I doubt it, but there is of course still that question.

    Playing devil’s advocate: I mean, what if the cops had a burglary or breaking and entering complaint lodged and they faced that kind of resistance when they knocked on the door? (The owner isn’t here, no you can’t come in.) What is the correct course of action for them there? Here in Columbus, a woman was killed when the police left after a similar situation. (Woman inside called 911, man inside restrained her while police knocked then left.)

    Being a cop is tough; even being a good cop can result in bad calls some times.

    But most telling is the “drum up” quote; that shoots the cop side of the story right down.

  14. It’s easy to see where the police thought they were squatters. From the article: “Viewed from the sidewalk, the property doesn’t look inhabited. The first floor is a decrepit storefront covered by a metal gate. The second-floor windows are covered with plywood.”

    Also, Trancemist, way to elevate the discussion. I invite you to come visit Philly, it’s no filthier than Atlanta. Though I suppose it’s easier to come up with a not very clever pun.

    Philly has a lot of faults, but don’t let a few power-tripping cops be your only impression of the city.

  15. We have now reached the police state singularity. And not so much, now that I think of it, per the fact that the cops kicked in a door and rounded up people trying to stop the establishment of a police state; the singularity occurs because it will be hard to find people who care.

  16. Not Nazis. Brownshirts. This is precisely the kind of thing Hitler’s Brownshirts would have done. That is accurate, and does not trivialise Nazi atrocities.

    Of course, the Brownshirts were just a stepping stone for the Nazis.

  17. I was thinking that perhaps the cops are a little overaggressive about this because of the whole MOVE thing that happened in the 70s.

    It is still talked about here (i live in philly) and i wouldn’t be surprised if the cops are hyper sensitive to what they might consider the beginnings of a radical group.

    I’m not trying to excuse them, but Philly cops have to deal with some of the worst crime in the country (think the wire), and i think they tend to overreact because they are under tremendous pressure to get crime down.

  18. When I lived in Philly it always seemed to me that the cops were in competition with L.A. for the worst, most corrupt, gestapo-esque police force. It was like the bad cop olympics with gold medals awarded for harassment, thuggishness and general ineptidude. I’m sure there’s gotta be a few good ones, but the track record aint good. L.A.P.D. still probably take the cake, but Philly bombed their own city. That’s gotta count for something.

  19. #15 elNico:

    Trivialise Nazi atrocities? I think you know that I didn’t even get started on those.

    Over-exaggerate Philadelphia cop crap? I was talking about police powers that I find outright scary and appalling. Who said I was talking about Philadelphia?

    IS there anything worthy of comparison? Of course not, there’s really not much of an overlap, yet. But everybody should decide for themselves how much overlap may become possible.

    Probably I’m just paranoid. People’s rights could never get slowly argued away by twisted legal reasoning. Police powers could never go down a slippery slope in Philadelphia and the rest of the U.S. like they did in Germany because… Um, yes, because of what?

  20. Housing code is a surprisingly powerful tool to use against activists. In the city where I used to live, it was used multiple times against the homes of activists critical of local city leaders.

    It worked like this: politicians (or city officials like the police chief) arrange to have housing inspectors “raid” a building. Housing inspectors don’t need the kind of warrant that cops do. Then, send some cops or other investigators in along with the inspectors to search through the house and hopefully find something suspicious.

    Have the inspectors note every minor violation of the (usually very strict) housing code, and use it as justification to condemn the building.

    Once the building is condemned, force everyone who lives there out using cops.

  21. Okay, cops calling them a hate group (offering no ecidence of such) and talking openly about “drum(ming) up charges” bad idea. responding that the owner isn’t around when you are the owner and throwing the keys away to make the cops either searcha bush or just simply kick in the door- also bad.

    It’s crap like this that makes me unable to take most activists seriously. It was all the rage to provoke the police into doing something violent so they could be filmed doing it here in Vancouver for a while. “see? they pepper= sprayed me! and all I did was throw a brick at his head!”

    Everyone in this event is in the wrong. lock them all up. activists, police, all of them.

  22. #22 I first thought of MOVE when I read this too, all things considered I suppose an unconstitutional search beats the hell out of the cops burning you to death in a fire.

  23. Sounds like “Little Brother” to me. This scares me. Heck Cory’s book scared me because I KNOW this kind of stuff can happen in America. I don’t like what is happening to this country and I swear to god what we need is a Movement. I am a Patriot in that I love what this Country is SUPPOSED to stand for and I think there needs to be some way to TAKE IT BACK!

  24. and what crystal will form the seed to germinate this movement? An idea? A martyr? A song? So much seething potential, so many looking to steer and exploit and use it.

  25. The difference, Baldhead, is that “drumming up charges” against someone is illegal, while throwing your house keys away is not.

  26. They ARE a hate group. . . they hate CCTV, and by their words and actions are trying to impinge on the civil rights of CCTV cameras everywhere.

    But seriously, the police have become a weird bureaucratic entity unto themselves, they exist not to protect the rights of the citizenry, but to protect themselves (hence the “thin blue line” stickers on the bumpers of police-owned civilian vehicles– “don’t ticket me– I’m one of the GOOD guys!”). The cops own words attest to the fact that they were deliberately harassing law abiding citizens.

    “Imagine one gang, consisting of the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings/ That’s when you start to realize what the police is/ Government funded gang-bangin thugs; that’s what beast is.” –Ill Bill

  27. It’s hard to believe that a streetwise street cop doesn’t know that ‘drum[ming] up evidence’ translates to ‘fabricating evidence,’ so what I think happened is that he was trying to say, ‘come up with some evidence.’ It’s easier to believe in an an inarticulate cop than it is in a self-incriminating one.

    By the way, #21, the Brownshirts weren’t Hitler’s. He shot them.

  28. @15 and others

    There is a serious danger in too readily dismissing comparisons of contemporary actions with Nazi actions. That danger is that we fail to learn from it, and we get surprised when it happens again right in front of our eyes.

    By making the Nazis out to be this supreme, ultimate, and incomparable evil, we prevent our selves from putting them to use as a tool for analysis of current events.

    Only with the perspective (or the spin, depending on your take) of history, does the overall picture of profound, horrendous evil come out. At the time, it probably appeared to most people like many disconnected, perhaps disagreeable acts, mostly by people who on the whole were rather nice. Those who sounded the alarm were probably called on the 1930’s equivalent of Godwin’s Law.

    And when we look at things going on right now, we always see individual actions, with which we may disagree, mostly by people who on the whole are rather nice. By refusing to really compare what is happening this month with what happened during a typical month in the Nazis’ rise to power (or any other big historical story for that matter), we put ourselves in danger.

  29. “Everyone in this event is in the wrong.”
    Certainly some truth in that statement, but only one side has taken an oath to uphold the law.
    I’ve seen enough that I will do my best to avoid the wrath of rogue cops. I’d rather complain about my rights being violated later then end up dead, or eating through a tube for the rest of my life.

  30. If I could edit my post I would have added something like “…decide for themselves how much overlap may become possible. I only hope they will know it when they see it.” – but #35 puts it much more elaborately why looking for patterns can never hurt.

    Don’t get me wrong, we as a society need a powerful police. But there are things, even little things, which we must not let authority get away with unopposed if we want to keep rights and freedom for everyone. Not just because of this particular case. Not just because it’s always happening to someone else instead of us. (First they came… Communists, anti-CCTV “hate group” activists, it’s pretty interchangable, isn’t it?) Many little unopposed vexations add up to one really big vexation all to easily. And then you’re powerless yourself.

  31. Cory, thanks for posting this.

    I suppose the officer who said “drum up” will say he’d been misquoted, or taken out of context (which seems to be the new “I was misquoted”).

    The comparisons to the Frank Rizzo years are dead accurate.

  32. Vote Libertarian. Yes a lot of their ideas about monetary policy and federal programs like Social Security are whacked, but are they any more whacked than what’s happening now due to the war on terror?

    The only thing that will shrink and mitigate government abuse at this point is at least a libertarian caucus in congress. Both major parties have bought into the war on terror. The democrats have to act “more macho than thou” to deflect republicans’ claims they’re soft. The republicans actually believe they’re doing the right thing.

  33. Vote Libertarian.

    No, no. Vote Socialist. I mean Communist. I mean Green. Wait, there are a whole lot of parties besides the Republicans and Democrats. Why would I vote for a group who wants to replace government with online trolling?

  34. Two points: 1) One of the cameras they’d been protesting was vandalised. Thinking they’d been the ones to do it was hardly unreasonable. 2) considering what the place is described as looking like, they were probably also suspected of squatting. So yes, there was some probable cause to go in there, and then these guys were totally uncooperative – it’s not like he couldn’t have calmly said “I’m the owner, and you can come in if and when you come back with a warrant” rather than lying and throwing his keys.

    Not that the cops are entirely in the right, though, by any means. Between the lack of a warrant and some of the comments the cop was quoted as making, there’s obviously some fucked up stuff going on there.

    As for the L&I bit – yes, they definitely employ it selectively. There was a bar here that had trouble with a license after a neighbor with L&I connections decided he didn’t like the bar. But in this case, the place is talked about as having a “decrepit storefront” on the first floor and boards over the second floor windows, and they apparently had no permits for their renovations. So calling L&I in to declare it unfit for habitation was not in and of itself inappropriate in this case, though L&I enforcement badly needs to be standardized and they may or may not have overstated the code failures – it’s not like either side is entirely reliable here.

    And for that matter, argumentum ad nazium is a quick way to fail at the internets. Police brutality and the “blue wall of silence” issue are a big problem here lately, but that’s a matter of a group of scared, power-tripping, well-armed bullies in a crime-ridden city. It’s not cause to say “OMG Nazis!” – the police commisioner and the mayor are not supporting this kind of crap.

  35. Lying to the cops is never a good idea. You’re apt to get charged with a crime unnecessarily when you could instead have effectively exercised your constitutional rights, refused to answer questions, and denied them entry. My favorite how-to movie for non-lawyers on the topic is:

    Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters

    Disclaimer: I was once handcuffed by “Officer Friendly” in front of a room full of people…as part of a Flex Your Rights presentation before the video existed. This in no way impacts my professional opinion that Flex Your Rights kicks ass ; )

    Aside: I was also pulled over six times in a week to retaliate after I showed Busted at Wesleyan. I think that affirms just how useful a movie it is. After asking me where I was going (“To my internship at the ACLU, Officer.”), they still asked for my consent to search my car. Not the brightest violators of my civil liberties.

  36. @Argon

    Look, I wasn’t arguing that this is trivial or should slip by without consequence…

    I just often think that when quick Nazi comparisons are made, it renders the argument to be easily ignored by anybody but the off-centre Left, due to inflationary use of them.

  37. @#30 DarqueKnight

    “Sounds like “Little Brother” to me. This scares me. Heck Cory’s book scared me because I KNOW this kind of stuff can happen in America.”

    I find it far more disturbing that GWB can be elected twice AND retire unscathed to the ranch to tend to the family’s assets…just like that…

  38. @#35 dragonfrog

    I completely agree…as far as the careful watching of events unfolding and remembering history goes.

    However, if any corrupt thug cop incident is interpreted as that you’re already living in a fascist state, where do you go from there?

  39. #47 elNico: See also #35, and I invite anyone who finds my use of WWII Germany inflated to replace it with a less worn-out “Stalinist Russia”, “Maoist China”, “North Korea”, “South Africa”, “Ethiopia”, or any other lesser police state if you like. Choose your own threshold! By the way, where IS the threshold to true oppression?

    It’s fine because it won’t affect the essence of my earlier post in the least. I’m not trying to make comparisons about Nazis, but specifically about police powers and mindsets – as they slowly became tolerated, and grew into extremes under the Nazis among others – nothing more than that.

    Don’t worry, folks, you have nothing to fear. We respect the rights of “good” guys like you, fourth amendment and all that. And for the unlikely case that we need to “investigate” your “group”, we promise to get a proper warrant of course and won’t try to find any convenient charges to get a hold on you.

    But someone must have sprayed that camera. While we’re at it, those police-critical bloggers probably are squatters too. And the demands of those union guys almost border on hate against the government, don’t you agree, citizen? I bet they’re hiding something. Certainly you won’t have a problem if we ransack them too and carry away their computers. That’s okay, everybody hates hate groups.

  40. The Nazis do have a somewhat special place in history. Not because of the numbers killed or the atrocities committed, but because of the society in which they arose. Germany between the wars was a modern, enlightened country with a thriving arts scene and brilliant counterculture. Most of the other examples are from Third World countries or societies that were barely past feudalism. Stalin killed more people than Hitler, but Hitler arose to power in a free society. Thus, the rise of Nazism is far more applicable to the rise of totalitarianism in the US, UK and other Western countries.

  41. I notice a lot of people saying that since Dan might have been squatting it was OK for the police to conduct this raid.

    Squatting is not, in itself, illegal. The applicable law is trespassing but the police can not enforce trespassing unless they receive a request to do so from the property owner or a representative of the owner.

    It’s fairly obvious that this is not what happened (considering the owner was the one arrested for trespassing).

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