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Chemical Cop Tactics Worry Protesters

Chicago Bears wide receiver Mark Bradley outruns the New York Jets' Shaun Ellis (92) and Bobby Hamilton (98) as he scores a 57-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter, Nov. 19, 2006 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Bears beat the Jets, 10-0.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Stung by a recent videotape of its officers beating and kicking a suspect, Philadelphia's police are pledging a restrained response to any protests at this week's Republican National Convention.

But as CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports, protesters are worried that the department's tactics will still involve the use of chemical agents, like pepper spray and tear gas, that demonstrators claim are harmful and unnecessary.

Some of those who'll be in Philadelphia this week are veterans of demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last year and at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington in April, two events that deteriorated into violent clashes between protesters and police.

Knowing that, Police Commissioner John Timoney said his force has been warned to be extra cautious.

"I can guarantee to you that officers will not take the first shot, land the first blow," he aid. "They're just going to be in defense of themselves or in the process of making an arrest after being assaulted."

With a heavy police presence already on the streets of the city this weekend, the commissioner says he's warned his rank and file that in order for them to keep the peace, they will have bite their lip.

"They must accept verbal taunts, personal insults, disparaging remarks regarding their families, their race, their ethnicity and they have to take it," he said.

Whether protesters will use such tactics is not clear. All week protest organizers have been staging workshops teaching thousands of new recruits how to disrupt the convention with non-violent civil disobedience.

One organizer told recruits, "We're here to demonstrate, we here to disrupt."

Some of the protesters, like Jennifer Krill and Patrick Reinsborough, are paid professionals; they even get health benefits to help organize demonstrations around the country.

Both were in Seattle and DC, and Reinsborough claims that the protests were non-violent until demonstrators were hit with tear gas and pepper spray.

"I think it's part of a very disturbing trend of the police to deal with people's right of freedom of expression and to protest peacefully, to respond by using chemical agents like tear gas and pepper spray," he said.

The use of pepper spray has become especially controversial.

Just last week, a demonstration in Minneapolis turned ugly after several animal rights activists were sprayed with pepper spray as they tried to enter a park. Several protestors received minor injuries.

Amnesty International is calling for the suspension of the use of pepper spray, claiming that over the last decade it has contributed to more than a hundred deaths in the United States.

"It results in coughing—it results in gagging, choking, swelling of the eyes and (is) particularly a problem for those that have respiratory aliments," said Curt Goering, a co-director of Amnesty Internatinal.

Timoney disputes charges that pepper spray is dangerous. He's been pepper sprayed himself and has no concerns about its use.

"I really have no worry whatsoever in regards to this non-lethal weapon somehow having a lethality that it doesn't have," he said.

But pepper spray—or at least the fear of it—have organizers preparing for the worst.

"We've asked people who had respiratory illnesses such as asthma to consider staying away from the front lines," Krill said, which in protesters' minds is a breach of what Krill calls Americans' "freedom to speak out when we feel like we're being oppressed."