Police Lines

Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-07-02-2005, Volume 29, Issue 7

Police and protests at BIO 2005.

It was hot in Philadelphia, and sticky: hard mid-day sun, high haze, and thunder storms possible in the evening. When I got to 13th and Arch Streets, it was over.

Douglas McCormick

Thirteenth Street runs north, across Arch and into the gaping maw of the Philadelphia Convention Center. Inside, BIO 2005 buzzed into its second day. Outside, the streets were thick with police Suburbans, police buses, police paddy wagons, yellow police tape, and the police themselves.

West on Arch Street, toward 12th, stood a disconsolate little knot of protesters: A girl with sunglasses and a bull-horn. A boy with a camouflage bandana wrapped around his head and another, red, worn bandit-style across his face against the tear-gas that never came. A boy carrying a backpack and a five-foot staff, with which (I fancied) he practiced bo-jitsu moves when he was alone. Another boy with a tuft of red beard and a green bandana hanging down around his neck circled nervously around them.

They huddled together, talking earnestly, fifty feet down the street. Between us was a thin line of yellow tape... and a much larger, much surlier, line of blue uniforms.

Every now and then, they would look back toward the line of police.

More often, the four protesters looked down the street, towards what remained of the Biodemocracy 2005 demonstration. There were only couple of hundred people, a shadow of the 1500 who besieged BIO last year in San Francisco. I could barely make out the ten-foot-tall protest puppets (how did gargantuan toys become a mainstay of left-wing activism?). I never did get to see folks dressed as characters from their own personal nightmare closets: the pharmaceutical monster "with pills for ears and dollar-signs for eyes," the giant tomatoes and sunflowers.

In a youth misspent as a bouncer in a mob-owned Boston beer-hall, I learned that you could walk into the place from a fresh spring evening and just smell it, behind the stale beer and the fermenting bar fruit: There's going to be trouble tonight.

I felt the same tension and anger in the blue crowd, and caught a whiff of the same old electric scent. But that Tuesday, the trouble was over.

"Is it true that an officer was hurt?" I asked a cop on the corner.

"He died," he said.

I just looked at him. Maybe my mouth hung open.

"I wouldn't joke about that," said the cop, short and broad with a bristling mustache. "He had a heart attack and died. Maybe somebody kicked him while he was down. We don't know."

"I'm sorry," I said.

He accepted the condolences with a short nod. We stood quietly for what seemed like a long time.

"Now that," said the cop, lifting his chin to indicate a stunning woman across the street, "would give you a heart attack."

Subject closed.

Minutes earlier, the protesters had scuffled with police. Paris Williams, a 52-year-old, plain-clothes community affairs officer, had a heart attack, collapsed, and died.

Amid the unprecedented flood of public relations releases that preceded the BIO meeting was a trickle of jejune statements from the protestors. Here's a sample:

"We're very concerned about the control of corporations of what we, like most of the people in the world, believe are basic human rights. It is unacceptable to the majority of Americans that healthcare, food, and our national security are being bought and sold to the highest bidder."

The protesters favored reimportation of drugs and opposed animal testing and biowarfare. (Biowarfare? A protest based on a shared prefix?)

Why, I wondered, can't they just think it through? How else can we turn our knowledge into benefit? Why is it that they just can't get it?

And I'm sure the girl with the bull-horn and the boys with the bandanas wondered the same thing about me.

Douglas McCormick is editor in chief of Pharmaceutical Technology, dmccormick@advanstar.com