There is a right way and a wrong way to protest in this town. Breaking the law, blocking streets and threatening police officers is definitely the wrong way. Even if the vast majority of the protesters who came to town this weekend acted responsibly, the actions of those who unnecessarily set off confrontations with the police have only undermined the overall message of the demonstrations. It is to the credit of the police and Chief Charles Ramsey that, as of this writing, they haven’t responded even more forcefully to the provocations they have endured so far.
At issue, at least in theory, are the lending practices of international lending institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Demonstrators complained, sometimes intelligibly, that the agencies have contributed to poverty and financial havoc in countries that receive the loans. It’s a perfectly legitimate complaint, one with which some conservatives might even agree. The question is the best way to make the complaint.
Some decided the best way was to disrupt the agencies’ meetings in town this weekend. In a case study of how not to demonstrate, protesters reportedly surrounded a minibus full of delegates to the meetings. The protesters shouted “Shame” and “Go home,” banging on the minibus with fists as the hapless delegates looked out. After about 20 minutes, Reuters reports, a squad of riot police, backed up by a dozen mounted police, arrived to drag the protesters away from the minibus, “throwing them to the ground and beating those who had sat on the ground in front of the minibus. ‘Peaceful protest,’ the demonstrators shouted as they were beaten,” Reuters reported. It isn’t “peaceful” to threaten delegates trapped on a minibus, and it isn’t “peaceful” to sit in front of traffic. It is coercion that does violence to the law that police are responsible for enforcing.
Other examples of violence included attacks by demonstrators on what Scripps-Howard called “several expensive automobiles” parked near police barricades on 19th Street. A larger crowd picked up a Nissan Pathfinder and carried the vehicle into the middle of New York Avenue in an attempt to block police traffic. Reporters from the local NBC affiliate showed a picture of a spiked “jackrock” placed in front of the tire of a TV truck. Were demonstrators unhappy with NBC’s foreign lending policies too? Or were they more interested in engaging in random violence.
Other incidents had happier outcomes. At one point Sunday hundreds of protesters swarmed a downtown intersection and faced off against approximately 100 police officers clad in riot gear. The confrontation could easily have escalated into violence. In came D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey to defuse the situation, talking to demonstrators, reassuring his officers and ordering them to stand down. According to press accounts, Mr. Ramsey, “hat off and looking calm,” shook hands with several of his officers, urged them to remove their helmets and drink some water as the hot sun beat down. The incident concluded without further problems.
Most of the protesters showed restraint of their own. Some 10,000 of them gathered at the Ellipse area Sunday afternoon to debate subjects ranging from Aids to Third World rights to globalization all peacefully. No problem. Let those who protest Monday follow that model rather than that of a violent few.