Members of the Valley Forge Revolutionaries started arriving at the Willow Grove Giant parking lot at about 9:15 p.m. Friday — they weren’t there for a late-night grocery run.
About a dozen of them gave up their Friday night to warn motorists about the DUI checkpoint that was scheduled to happen a little bit down Old York Road in Abington.
The group, founded in 2007, describes its police checkpoint protests as “checkpoint nullification” events.
The gathering was casual; most of the members seemed to know each other. Some of the Revolutionaries were eating snacks out of Styrofoam containers, gearing up for the long night. Others were chatting it up, about things that weren’t DUI checkpoint related.
Dana Costello was a member who made the trip up from Prospect Park. He was quick to offer up why he was standing in a supermarket parking lot late on a Friday night.
“If you think about it, [DUI checkpoints] are totally illegal,” Costello said. If we keep letting them happen, then there are going to be seat belt checkpoints, and then ‘junk-in-your-windshield checkpoints.’ Where does it end?”
Another member said police resources would be better allocated by chasing those suspected of driving under the influence.
“I drive behind cars driven by drunk people all the time,” the member said. “But instead of chasing them, all the police are tied up at a checkpoint while this guy on the side roads is in neighborhoods, potentially hitting little kids.”
Both members were quick to say that the group does not condone driving while drunk.
Prior to heading down Route 611 toward the checkpoint the group’s spokesman, Royersford resident Darren Wolfe, had some words of advice: Don’t speak with the police, don’t react emotionally, don’t use aggressive language and don’t get physical.
He calls the demonstrations “peaceful resistance.”
At the first protest, the Valley Forge Revolutionaries waved homemade signs with reflective lettering, some of which read, “Cops Ahead Exit Now” or “Big Bro is Watching.” The protestors also vocally warned approaching motorists of the DUI checkpoint.
Most recently, the group held a protest in June in Upper Moreland.
The Revolutionaries seemed to be under the impression that the DUI checkpoint was going down on Old York Road in Abington, near Keith Road and Abington Memorial Hospital.
As it turns out, that was the “alternate location.”
A large Second Alarmers Rescue vehicle, replete with auxiliary lighting, sat parked, manned, and burning diesel fuel in a bank parking lot on Keith Road.
Cop cars were scattered throughout the area, but the checkpoint was 4 miles away — and no one told the protesters.
At the checkpoint (on Huntingdon Pike, across from Genuardi’s/Giant), Abington Police Deputy Chief Michael Webb said the police hold checkpoints randomly throughout the summer, and that they always have a “primary” and an “alternate” location.
Webb said he was aware of the potential for protesters.
“Well, they were at the Upper Moreland checkpoint; there was a lot of internet traffic on Facebook,” Webb said. “Some of our police officers were there, so we were familiar with what happened at the [last] protest … What I did hear was that they were expressing their viewpoints about the checkpoint and they were generally orderly.”
As for the switch, Abington Police Sgt. Chris Porter said the decision to stage the DUI checkpoint on Huntingdon Pike was made earlier that evening and was made due to safety concerns for the potential protesters; he said there was simply more room at the Huntingdon Pike location.
The potential presence of the protestors didn’t affect the staffing of the checkpoint or the number of people who volunteered to help out, according to Porter. Porter also said that Abington Police do roving DUI patrol in addition to the checkpoints.
As for the issue of the Constitutionality of the searches, Webb and Porter said — very quickly — that the Supreme Court has already addressed the issue; both said that the police officers conducting the stops must adhere to several legal guidelines.
According to a New York Times article, in 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States did rule that such sobriety checkpoints do not violate constitutional rights, specifically addressing the preliminary questioning and observation by checkpoint officers.
As of midnight, no protesters were in the area of the DUI checkpoint; a source said today that several protesters with signs were seen sitting in a dark parking lot on Old York Road at about 10 p.m. yesterday.
Upper Moreland-Willow Grove Patch Local Editor Gerry Dungan contributed to this story.