- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Protests against international financial groups became unruly yesterday as seven demonstrators were arrested after blocking traffic near the World Bank and others spray-painted graffiti across portions of the Whitehurst Freeway.

Metropolitan Police yesterday closed streets around the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after protesters there chained themselves to a rental truck and hampered the morning rush-hour commute.

"As a result of this, we've decided to close off and/or restrict traffic around the IMF building," said police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile. "This could be expanded depending upon prevailing circumstances."

The closed roads 19th Street NW between G Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and H Street NW between 18th and 20th streets snarled the afternoon commute, causing lengthy backups and delays.

Police said the streets will stay closed until further notice. Only pedestrians and authorized vehicles will be allowed in the area. No pedestrians will be allowed in front of the World Bank or IMF building.

"I'm certain this will cause a disruption to traffic and an inconvenience to motorists," Sgt. Gentile said, adding that police officials hope the public will understand.

The protesters said yesterday's events are only the beginning. Their so-called "Days of Action" demonstrations will continue this week and culminate Sunday and Monday, when as many as 10,000 activists will use "large-scale, nonviolent direct action" in an attempt to shut down scheduled meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

The protests began over the weekend, including Sunday's event in which activists formed a human chain around the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday, D.C. police formed a chain of their own as they lined the entire block around the IMF building.

Demonstration organizers have met with police officials and assured them their activities will be peaceful, but police are concerned that "fringe groups" may cause disruptions.

Yesterday, vandals spray-painted an anti-World Bank message across a 75-yard stretch of the Whitehurst Freeway in Northwest.

The graffiti reads: "Outlaw Bankers Cancel All Debt Question Property Rights Destroy Boundaries Write Everywhere Drain Bankers' Blood in the Potomac Freedom Begins where Debt Ends 50 years is enough is not enough Joel Klein is not enough String Up CEOs with Bankers' Guts."

No arrests were made yesterday for the graffiti, which is spray-painted on the freeway's on-ramp from the Key Bridge entering the city. D.C. courts can fine graffiti vandals up to $5,000 and put them in jail for up to a year.

"It's the first we've heard about [graffiti]. We're not encouraging people to do things like that," said David Bryden, communications director for Jubilee 2000/USA, a lobbying group dedicated to erasing the debt owed by Third World countries.

"Our activities here have been legal and peaceful and nonviolent," Mr. Bryden said. "But people have strong feelings, and strong feelings are bound to come out one way or another."

Uniformed Secret Service officers yesterday arrested a pair of protesters trying to hang a banner above the IMF's main entrance about 8 a.m. The activists, who had arrived in a rental truck, were charged with unlawful entry.

Two other demonstrators chained themselves to the truck and three others on the truck's roof shouted at motorists through a bullhorn. D.C. police charged the five with failure to obey the lawful order of an officer, which carries a $100 fine. Three of the five were released after paying the fine.

Activists said they would use tactics like human barricades and sit-ins to prevent delegates from reaching the meetings, much like the protests last year in Seattle during meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Those protests erupted into violence; more than 580 people were arrested and more than $10 million worth of property was destroyed.

D.C. police officials have said they wouldn't be overwhelmed like Seattle police, who imposed a curfew and broke up protests with clubs, rubber bullets and tear gas. Hundreds of Seattle police, 200 National Guard troops and 600 state troopers were needed to restore order after rioting erupted.

The protests provide a test for local police officials, who said they have learned the lessons of the Seattle riots. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper resigned in December, taking full responsibility for the violence that disrupted the WTO meeting.

D.C. police accelerated their crowd-control training so that 1,500 officers would be ready with $1 million of new equipment, such as helmets and chest pads.

Officers are scheduled to work 12-hour shifts and "the entire department will be activated," though patrols in other areas of the city will continue, Sgt. Gentile said.

Groups opposing the World Bank and IMF represent a variety of causes: the environment, labor, human rights, peace, anti-global capitalism and debt-reduction for poor nations.

Protest targets in Washington include the World Bank and IMF buildings, the White House, Capitol Hill, the State Department and the Treasury Department.

The State Department has declared the World Bank and IMF buildings "temporary diplomatic missions," placing them under the protection of the Secret Service as well as the Metropolitan Police Department.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide