WASHINGTON – For the second straight day, the streets of Washington belonged to protesters Monday, expressing their anger at the actions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
About one thousand protesters blocked the intersection of 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue for several hours after marching through the streets of the nation’s capital amid rush-hour traffic. The demonstrators are in the city to vocalize their anger at the actions of the two international organizations. Protesters claim the IMF and World Bank discriminate against third-world countries in an effort to advance large corporations.
Although the protests did not begin as early Monday as they had the day before, the eerie sense of calm in the city was soon replaced by loud demonstrations.
After several small confrontations at the 20th and Pennsylvania intersection, including the use of pepper spray, police and protest organizers agreed to allow the barricade to be opened in two places so protesters could walk past, view the World Bank offices and then be arrested in a symbolic gesture. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey estimated 400 people were arrested at the intersection.
We saw there was a way to calm things down by bringing a little peace and love into the relationship, said Executive Assistant Chief Terry Gainer.
The peaceful arrests were a stark contrast to earlier in the morning, when police used tear gas to break up a crowd and used force to arrest several busloads of protesters. Ramsey estimated that 500 to 600 people were arrested in Washington Monday, including those who went voluntarily.
At around 8:30 a.m., police used tear gas by accident, Ramsey said. He said police and National Guard officers, who were called in last night, thought they were releasing smoke grenades.
Police then stormed down toward the busiest downtown street that was open to traffic Monday morning, and used batons to control and arrest protesters.
I saw one guy on the floor, and he had been beaten, said Joseph Fraiman, 18, a student at University of Massachusetts at Amherst who served as a medic during the protests. (The police) just were attacking the front line of people.
Fraiman said he was pulled out of the protest while he was trying to assist an injured demonstrator.
They were completely non-violent, he said of the protesters. They had their hands up and were getting cracked with nightclubs.
The actions and tactics used Monday were the complete opposite for both sides from their Sunday strategy. While protesters attempted to scatter and block as many intersections as possible Sunday, they amassed in a group and paraded the next day. The police, who allowed the demonstrators to take over the streets Sunday put up more of a fight at times, insistent on allowing traffic to flow for the business day.
These are people who just want to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, said Han Shan, an organizer with Mobilization for Global Justice. I think the police are being really intolerant.
The parade started as a small demonstration down 14th street, blocking the traffic in one direction. While rain seemed to dampen the protest’s numbers, it gathered support by circling an area near the national monuments and then parading up 14th Street amid traffic.
They can amass quicker than anything I’ve ever seen before, Ramsey said of the protesters.
Protesters formed human barriers on the open streets, and their chanting drowned out the sounds of honking cars.
This is what democracy looks like, protesters chanted as they criss-crossed between cars along 14th street.
The protesters were told to divide into two groups, those who were willing to be arrested were brought up front and the other supporters were placed in the parade behind large paper mache floats.
The march was forced to end by police barricades at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, at the border of the George Washington University campus. The protesters camped out at the intersection for several hours.
The atmosphere between police and protesters was at times tense. When police donned their gas masks, protesters would become more rowdy. At one point, the groups clashed and pepper spray was released, hitting several demonstrators and members of the media.
We couldn’t afford to lose that line, Ramsey said.
At times, the line of officers holding the barricade was four men deep, all in gas masks. Police removed the masks as part of the agreement that allowed demonstrators to be voluntarily arrested.
Ramsey was at the center of police action this weekend. During the arrest in the morning hours Monday, Ramsey was handing out plastic handcuffs to his officers. And, he accepted a rose from a protester across the barricade at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue.
When he was asked by one demonstrator whether tear gas would be used, he repeatedly said no.
Ramsey said he estimates the cost of overtime for his officers at $4 to $5 million. Washington D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) requested a special appropriation of $5 million from the federal government to pay for costs of this weekend’s protests.
With the agenda of the meetings ending Monday, business is expected to return to normal Tuesday.
This isn’t over – but it will certainly be a lot better around here tomorrow, Ramsey said.
-Theresa Crapanzano contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the April 17, 2000 issue of the Hatchet.