Metropolitan Police arrested at least 654 people including at least 10 GW students in a weekend which saw heavy police presence and fewer demonstrators than expected for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. Protesters, who planned to shut down the city, supported issues like debt relief for Third World countries, global justice and fair trade.
Students from GW and across the nation were among the throngs of screaming demonstrators that rallied and marched through the capital decrying the international lending policies of the IMF and World Bank. Police reported only one protester was slightly injured.
“I think that what we are doing here is important,” said Derrik Hanson, a Miami native who came to Washington to try to shut down the IMF meetings. “We may not have prevented these meetings from happening, but at least people are hearing our message and paying attention. There could have been more people out here, but I am happy to see so many.”
Protesters and police clashed after demonstrators smashed the window of a Farragut Square Citibank, threw smoke bombs in the business district and put crazy glue in Metro ticket gates.
More than 200 people were arrested in Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House, on charges of parading without a permit, failing to obey a police order and blocking sidewalks. The crowd in the plaza included demonstrators, journalists and citizens caught between police and protesters. Police closed all the exits to the plaza and arrested all those inside.
Among those arrested were several GW students assigned to cover the protests for their journalism classes, Hatchet photographers and other students. Police held some arrested individuals for up to 26 hours until Saturday afternoon.
“The police closed off the park and trapped everyone inside,” said senior Young Choi, photo editor for the Cherry Tree and Hatchet photographer. “I tried to leave but the police said my press credentials were not valid.”
Sophomore Yamit Taragon went to the protests as an assignment for her sociology class. She was assigned to attend a protest as an observer and write a paper about what she saw.
“I tried to leave and I tried to explain to the police what I was doing there but they wouldn’t let me leave,” Taragon said.
“Police never made any announcements for us to leave,” said Eleiza Braun, a campus activist with the Progressive Student Union, who was also at the plaza. “We were trapped inside the park and could not have dispersed if we had wanted to.”
The arrests in Freedom Plaza angered many protesters and organizers.
“The police were simply stopping people from their First Amendment right to protest,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney from the Partnership for Civil Justice. The Partnership offered pro bono legal services to those arrested and said it may take legal action against MPD. Hilliard blasted MPD officers for what she called, “shameful conduct of trapping and detaining and mass arresting of peaceful protesters.”
D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said that threats from the protesters were taken seriously.
“They have been saying for the past few months that they were going to shut down the city,” said Ramsey. “We have to take them at their word. They’ll have their day in court.”
About 25 protesters, including GW students, arrived at the Gap clothing store on Wisconsin Avenue. as a light drizzle began to fall Friday afternoon to protest Gap’s alleged use of sweatshops and environmental disregard.
Outnumbered by media and police officers demonstrators, initially donned “Crap” T-shirts with the Gap logo before stripping down to their underwear chanting “We would rather wear nothing then wear Gap.”
Activists said they took off their clothing for media attention and that any attention would bring the cause against sweatshops to light.
“We are redefining American patriotism . we are fighting corporate greed,” said “Griffin,” a San Francisco activist.
Protesters of all ages came from across the nation.
“I protested the exploitation of our American youth in Vietnam, and 25 years later, I’m protesting against the exploitation of the Third World,” activist Bob Commike said. “People don’t know there’s a problem with capitalism, and I’m here to educate them. People need to get the information.”
Demonstrators met Saturday for a permitted event at the base of the Washington monument featuring speakers and musical acts.
“Multi-national corporations have had devastating effects in Third World countries,” said former Green presidential candidate and social activist Ralph Nader.
Speakers called for support of union actions, ending Third-World debt and fighting corporations before the crowd began a march to the World Bank.
“We are trying to block the delegates in,” said Gloria Phillips-Meyer, a student at University of California- Los Angeles. “We are going to do all that we can. But we are non-violent.”
Protests dispersed quickly as night fell on Saturday and many left the demonstrations. About 25 remaining protesters laid down on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street. MPD officers said the protesters could lie in the street because the street was already closed.
“We are not going to leave here,” said Jessica Brown, a high school senior from Akron, Ohio. “We are here to stop these meetings even if we have to get arrested.”
Demonstrators left after one hour of sitting in the intersection.
Some students were angered by the disruption the protesters caused in the city.
“I don’t think they are accomplishing anything just out here blocking traffic,” said junior Delta Tau Delta member Chris Mileto, who came out with fellow fraternity members to watch the protests. “It is a trendy cause that everyone comes out for.”
-Mike Barnett, Dustin Harrison-Atlas and Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.