Camilo Vivieros, born to immigrant parents, was raised in the closely-knit Portuguese community of Fall River, Massachusetts. He has been involved in work for social justice for virtually his whole life. His caring is evidenced in his work with many grassroots community organizations, and it is this which brought him to Philadelphia in August of 2000 to protest the Republican National Convention.
Like many others, Camilo (pronounced: Camille) went to Philly to highlight economic injustices in this country and the increasing prioritization of profits over people's needs. Many different groups were there to protest and thousands took to the streets of Philadelphia in an exercise of their right to free speech. Before the protest had even begun, this right was being taken from them.
On July 31, Philadelphia police raided the warehouse where activists were preparing signs and puppets, destroying personal property and arresting 70. These illegal acts continued for the duration of the protests with police arresting anyone who looked like they intended to participate. In one case, they stopped a bus full of snakes and lizards that they claimed activists were planning to release during the protests. In reality, the bus was driven by a person whose business was to supply animals to area pet stores. Most incidences were not so humorous, however.
Many protesters were beaten and wounded. In keeping with a too common police practice, most injured protesters were charged with assaulting the police while the opposite was true. One man had to have his ear stitched back onto his head. In jails, people were kept in severely overcrowded cells without basic necessities; medication was denied to diabetic and HIV positive prisoners; and many prisoners were further physically abused.
Camilo was one of these hundreds arrested and treated brutally over those days of the Convention, but he had the misfortune of being charged with assaulting the top Philly cop: Police Commissioner Timony. Those who know Camilo believe that it is unlikely that he committed any such assault.
In his teens, he was a care giver, volunteering on a suicide hot line and in group homes with developmentally disabled adults. During his college years and in his professional work, Camilo has continued to devote his time to help people in impoverished communities to attain basic survival needs, from food and housing to environmental health and protection from domestic violence. He now works for the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants helping low income tenants -- mostly elderly and disabled -- organize to improve their living conditions. Lori Ann Shemanski, a VISTA project coordinator had this to say about Camilo's arrest: "the reaction of the tenants, of his coworkers, ... is one of incredulity as to how the police made such an error... for we all know Camilo's gentle temperament, his consistent patience and his peacekeeping nature."
TWO YEARS LATER
By now, over two years since the Republican convention protest, of the 400 plus arrested, 95% have had their cases either dismissed for lack of evidence or been acquitted. The blatant abuse of power by the Philadelphia police and courts in an effort to stifle political dissent has resulted in several civil rights lawsuits against the City. Settlements are already being made in favor of the protesters. Camilo, however, has received another trial date of February 18, 2003 to face the prosecutor's final attempt to make an example of someone after all the city's misdeeds and wasted resources. Their threat is very real in the climate of fear since 9/11 as the government further shrinks civil liberty in favor of "security" and the City of Philadelphia holds 15 to 60 years prison time over an upstanding man's head.
The support group, Friends of Camilo, is continuing to work distributing literature, organizing events, raising money, and writing letters to editors to publicize this case. They are also hoping to talk with more people who were in Philly August 1, 2000, who saw what happened in the streets and could weigh in with their stories. Friends of Camilo is planning to exert political pressure on Philly officials as well through gathering petition signatures and letters of support from individuals and organizations.
Friends of Camilo-Providence can be reached at: POBox 23169 Providence, RI 02903; firstname.lastname@example.org and Mimi @ 401-351-6960. A web site offers info and literature as well: www.friendsofcamilo.org.
For a chronology of the original protest and the legal fallout, visit the legal collective's web site at www.r2kphilly.org.