Hundreds of marchers clogged Washington, D.C. streets yesterday, clashing with local police and making life difficult for businesses and downtown workers, but falling far short of the protesters’ goal of shutting down the scheduled meeting of International Monetary Fund delegates.
After a day of sporadic confrontations and arrests in the cordoned-off streets around the IMF building on 19th Street, tensions between global capitalism protesters and police eased after 400 demonstrators were allowed to peacefully cross police lines so they could be arrested.
Protesters had hoped to shut down conferences at the IMF by blocking delegates, but with the large police presence on hand to control the demonstrations, meetings were not delayed.
A tense standoff with police began after a crowd of about 1,000 protesters marched before noon from the Ellipse to the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street NW, about two blocks away from the World Bank and IMF buildings.
Protesters tried breaching the center of the line. One was able to dive across but was quickly taken away in handcuffs. Officers held the protesters at bay with pepper spray, backing the demonstrators away from the barricades.
Officers then donned gas masks, and a standoff began. The stalemate ended hours later when barricades were opened so protesters could walk through and be arrested.
Yesterday’s demonstrations were expected to be the last large-scale protests associated with this round of IMF meetings, and D.C. officials were optimistic that downtown would return to normal today.
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey credited Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer with defusing the standoff between police and demonstrators yesterday.
“They said they intended to breach our line so they could be arrested. And we planned to hold it,” said Chief Ramsey. “Terry Gainer did an outstanding job negotiating with them. If it had broken down, we would have had a large fight on our hands.
“This does show we can have protests in cities and cities don’t have to burn.”
Chief Gainer said he negotiated through a demonstrator named Mary Bull. The breakthrough came when police agreed to take off their gas masks and show their badges, which many officers were wearing inside riot gear.
Chief Gainer then agreed to allow small groups of demonstrators to peacefully breach the line, march past the barriers and be voluntarily arrested.
Within minutes after the last group walked through and was arrested, chanting began to die down, and the remainder of the crowd walked away in small groups.
Yesterday’s rain-soaked protests drew far fewer participants than organizers saw on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when an estimated 10,000 protesters converged on the streets around the World Bank and IMF facilities.
Chief Ramsey said police will maintain a perimeter around the World Bank and IMF buildings at least through Friday. He added that he hoped that he has seen the last of the protests.
“We will maintain a police presence for the foreseeable future until we are very confident the threat no longer exists,” Chief Ramsey said.
He said he did not know whether other demonstrations were planned.
“We’ll have people here if they do,” he said.
Han Shan, a spokesman for the demonstrators, said they consider the weeklong protests a victory for global economic justice.
“We’ve won,” Mr. Shan said while marching up 14th Street with about 1,000 protesters. “They militarized this city to make these meetings happen.”
But he acknowledged the protesters fell short of their goal to shut down the IMF meetings.
Besides the 400 who were arrested voluntarily yesterday afternoon, 100 people were arrested yesterday morning at 19th and I streets NW.
At that intersection, authorities in police cars and a van with IMF employees were trying to get inside the perimeter and ran into a crowd that encircled them around 8 a.m. Police officers fired smoke grenades and tear gas and dispersed the crowd.
Protesters said they did not plan the attack on the the police car and van, that they crossed paths and police reacted with tear gas. They said as soon as the gas was released, they retreated east on I Street.
“We were just marching along and chanting, the next thing you know pop, pop, pop,” said Me-Ling Eng, a 19-year-old student of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “We just went in the opposite direction because we weren’t prepared for gas.”
As the protests marched on yesterday, Anton Budanko, owner of Anton Barber Shop at 1424 H St. NW, sat in a barber chair inside his empty shop reading a paper. His customers had been scared off by the commotion.
“Monday is normally my second busiest day, but no one is here,” said the 60-year-old barber. “I think the police have done an excellent job. Whoever is in charge, they did an excellent job. They didn’t let it get out of hand.
“I’ll be glad when they [the demonstrators] are gone.”