Student protests shut down D.C. streets, but with little violencep. 12
MPD Chief Ramsey: `we feel the same way’
by Matt BergerU-WIRE Washington Bureau
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in D.C. Sunday in a mass rally against the actions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Streets were forcefully closed by a number of protest groups, including Mobilization for Global Justice, which formed human barricades and blocked intersections by sitting and linking arms.
Whose streets? Our streets! became the rallying cry from many of the protests as one by one, police presence was overtaken by the depth of protesters, which police estimate was between 6,000 and 10,000 people.
Protesters came to Washington to voice their objections to the policies of the two international organizations. They claim the World Bank and IMF use unfair lending practices that discriminate against third-world countries in favor of big business.
The protests were for the most part peaceful, with several isolated incidents of violence. In most cases, police held a line behind barricades but did not confront the protesters. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the police’s strategy was to allow protesters a chance to peacefully continue.
As long as they don’t breach our perimeter, we won’t resort to chemical weapons, Ramsey said in an afternoon press conference.
At every corner, a group of demonstrators turned the closed street into a block party, with paper mach? dolls, marchers and music. The sheer number of protesters created gridlock in the city, shutting down a large part of the nation’s capital to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
But not all incidents ended peacefully. After protesters broke through a barricade of D.C. police Sunday morning, some ralliers took gates and other objects from a construction site and began running down 14th Street near the White House. They were confronted by police on motorcycles, who used pepper spray to break up the crowd and assaulted several protesters who had scattered to a nearby park.
We were trying to move up, and the police didn’t want it, and they used force, 19-year-old Kagima El from New York said. I was pushed down with a baton.
They weren’t playing, El said.
Once calm was restored, a couple of protesters threw bottles at police, but others shouted no violence and urged for calm.
We’re just trying to calm the blockade and make clear that we’re here to
stop the actions of the IMF and World Bank, not the police, protester Looren Finkelstein said.
Protesters applauded as police removed their gas masks in the minutes following the melee.
Ramsey said tear gas was not used Sunday, but pepper spray and smoke grenades were used at several intersections. Police arrested about 23 people Sunday, including a man who had a Molotav cocktail in his possession.
The evening before, a protest about prison reform ended in the arrest of about 600 people. The group began marching from the Department of Justice and was blocked by police. They were arrested with plastic handcuffs and loaded into school buses. Those arrested were taken to a makeshift-processing center and charged with parading without a permit, according to police.
Several journalists, including Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Carol Guzy from The Washington Post, were also arrested.
I’m just here to cover the story, said Jessica K. Glass, a reporter from New York, as she was escorted toward the bus.
Protests began before dawn Sunday. By six o’clock, several intersections had already been blocked, and police were in full force.
Throughout the morning hours, the perimeter of blocked-off space – either by police barricades or protesters’ human barricades – increased, as tourists and other pedestrians had trouble navigating downtown areas.
Protests spilled onto the Foggy Bottom campus, creating scenes that were jovial at times and tense at others.
At the site of the new Red Cross building on 20th and E streets, student protesters took wood strips from the construction and blocked the road as buses of delegates to the World Bank and IMF meetings searched for an open road to get to the meeting.
At all costs, we’re just trying to block the delegates (from entering), said Jackie Littell, a student from Paul Smith’s College (N.Y.). The training from yesterday was very informative – so many people showed up, so I think we’re all prepared and educated.
About 20 police on foot attempted to push a charter bus through protesters’ barricades. Chanting shame, the protesters were successful in keeping the bus out. Police dragged students through the road. A man, who identified himself as Toby walked away from the incident with blood dripping from his forehead.
(The police) were pushing us away, but we united together and managed to surge forward (against the police), Toby said.
Legal observers at the scene witnessed the event, saying that Toby was struck about three or four times in the head by a police officer.
Han Shan, an organizer with Mobilization for Global Justice, said he believed Washington became a police state as a reaction to the protests.
The police and FBI were out here with an agenda, Shan said. The police have been very flexible. They’ve been moving around a lot more.
Ramsey said that despite being nervous about the expected confrontations, he was pleased by the limited use of force.
You hear them chant all the time `peace and non-violence,’ the police chief said. We feel the same way.
We didn’t create this situation, but we’re trying to deal with it, Ramsey said.
Shan said he believed the protesters’ actions changed the agenda of the IMF and World Bank meetings.
We had a mandate to shut down these meetings, he said.
Shan said he was impressed by the number of young students who traveled to D.C. for the protests.
I’ve met 13-year-olds (this week) with more understanding of global economics and trade than my economics professor in high school, he said.
-Jay Crystal and Sarah Lechner contributed to this report.