- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It sometimes pays incredibly well to be a protester in the city, as seven complainants discovered this week after the D.C. government agreed to ease their long-term distress with $425,000.

The settlement goes back to demonstrations waged against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on Sept. 27, 2002, when D.C. police made mass arrests at Pershing Park, east of the White House. The settlement also calls for police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to write letters of apology to each of the seven. The pact, fortunately, stops short of requiring Mayor Anthony A. Williams to hold a ticker-tape parade in their honor.

It is, of course, almost an American pathology to be heard in a public forum, no matter the obscurity of the cause or absence of logic. Many of the protesters who descend on the nation’s capital like the plague are a motley crew of anarchists, conspiracy theorists, peace activists, socialists, left-wing extremists, environmentalists and garden-variety loonies with nothing better to do than shout and be noticed.

They take up good taxpayer money and the precious time of overworked law-enforcement agencies in order to get the word out about their life-changing political views. They do so without regard to cost and a city’s quality of life. They do so without consideration for the law-enforcement agencies, whose overtime duty has skyrocketed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their need to be heard is all-powerful, their level of self-absorption matched only by their egos.

These demonstrations sometimes turn nasty and destructive, as those emboldened by the protective cover of a crowd are apt to exceed the peaceful intentions of others. The police, there to protect life, liberty and property, mostly have a thankless mission. The line between the First Amendment rights of the protesters and the property and safety rights of the innocent can be awfully gray.

In this instance, police crossed the line, and the aggrieved seven, among the masses arrested and detained that day, have the healing power of $425,000, courtesy of the legal work of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The real loser in this settlement is not the D.C. government. It is the average resident who lives in this increasingly cordoned-off city, who is inconvenienced by these events and then handed the bill. The bill is liable to grow, with three other ACLU lawsuits still pending.

The message to police is hardly encouraging. Next time there is a demonstration — and there is always a next time — the police have been put on notice to be extra diligent and careful.

Alas, the work of a professional protester is never done, and these types are drawn to the nation’s capital like moths to light. They would protest the pruning of a tree if they thought it could evolve into a movement. They pretend to have all the answers when, clearly, they missed the elementary aspect of Sept. 27, 2002.

They missed the potentially combustible dimension of being in the vicinity of rabble-rousers, with questionable motives and backgrounds, and the police, in riot gear and on edge since September 11.

Bad things have a way of happening amid the heated rhetoric. All it takes is one authority-hating nut to hurl a rock in the direction of a police officer, and the response is certain to be swift and unyielding, and unfair, no doubt, to those merely looking to vent a spleen in a peaceful manner.

One of the amusing elements of these staged protests is the gullibility of the well-meaning sorts in attendance. They seemingly believe all protests are a romp in the park, and sometimes they are. But sometimes, given the flaws of the human condition, matters become unruly.

Twenty-eight months after the fact, the Washington Seven have a $425,000 check in hand, a written apology on the way, and a vow from the police chief, the mayor and the D.C. Attorney General’s Office to implement different protest controls in the future.

How sweet.

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