Postings on Web sites indicate that protests against international financial groups meeting here next week will turn violent, even as protest organizers and police call for peaceful demonstrations.
Protest events begin this weekend and will culminate April 16 and 17, when as many as 10,000 activists will use “large-scale, nonviolent direct action” to shut down meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The activists’ so-called “Days of Action” kick off Saturday with a march from a warehouse in the 1300 block of Florida Street NW to Malcolm X Park, where a free concert will be held from noon to 5 p.m.
Sunday afternoon, two groups on the National Mall will call for the cancellation of debt for poor countries and form a human chain around the U.S. Capitol but will not disrupt traffic, organizers said.
The scheduled events are billed as peaceful, and organizers have sworn off violence. But their goal to stop the World Bank and IMF meetings sets the stage for clashes with police.
“It’s no secret we want to shut this down with civil disobedience,” said Soren Ambrose, policy analyst with the 50 Years Is Enough network, a coalition of groups critical of IMF/World Bank policies for Third World nations.
Activists will use civil disobedience 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. Those protests erupted into violence; more than 580 people were arrested and more than $10 million worth of property was destroyed.
Mobilization for Global Justice, a collection of protest groups, has a posting on its Web site (www.a16.org) that reads: “All this talk about non-violence in the face of the corporate violence threatening the people of the planet Earth is a wast (sic) of time.”
“We MUST bring down the castles of capitalism by any and all means,” reads the posting, which is signed by “JUDAH.”
Another posting by “tobespierre” said property destruction is “inevitable,” given the thousands of people who will protest.
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. Even patriot groups worried about losing national sovereignty and homosexual activists have joined the chorus of World Bank/IMF critics.
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,” which places them under the protection of the Secret Service as well as the Metropolitan Police Department.
Police expect to close off the area immediately around the World Bank and the IMF buildings on April 16 and 17.
During the protests, motorists should expect to find streets closed in the area around 19th and H streets NW. Police already have decided to close 18th, 19th and 20th streets between G and H streets NW.
Police met with activists this week to discuss the protests and negotiate a route for the march on April 16.
“We’re hoping, based on the talks we’re having … for a peaceful demonstration,” said Sgt. Joe Gentile, Metropolitan Police spokesman. “Our actions will be based on the actions of the protesters.”
A law enforcement source familiar with the planned demonstrations said the main problem is that loosely knit groups are not predictable.
“It’s hard to tell about these guys. It’s a bunch of middle-class kids who are looking for something to protest,” the source said.
“There are concerns about everything,” the source said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. We are prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”
“These are people who say they have First Amendment rights and are willing to do anything to exercise those rights, even if it means violence,” the source said.
Another law enforcement source said the demonstrators include many well-organized fringe groups who have their own reconnaissance and communications teams to oversee disruptions while eluding police.
“In Seattle, they had radios and cellular phones to keep tabs on the police,” the source said.
City police are more concerned about the protests than they were about potential violence during last April’s 50th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, when much of the city was shut down, the source said.
Police officials have said they won’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 broke out.
D.C. police accelerated their crowd-control training so that 1,500 officers will be ready with $1 million worth of new equipment, such as helmets and chest pads.
Officers will work 12-hour shifts starting next week and “the entire department will be activated,” though patrols in other areas of the city will continue, Sgt. Gentile said.
Local and federal officials won’t say exactly how many officers will be involved in the operations. A task force of local and federal law enforcement agencies has met for at least two months to discuss backup plans, such as mass arrests.
“We will be on alert,” said Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson, noting that three of the subway system’s five lines run within blocks of the World Bank at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Jim Keary contributed to this report.