- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

More than 30,000 protesters who brought a variety of grievances to the District yesterday paid only brief homage to their demands before joining forces with a large group of peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators leaving thousands of police officers with little to do but look surprised.
"They're all here exercising their First Amendment rights, and God bless them," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said, using his baton as a walking stick as he moved among thousands of demonstrators at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The demonstrators arrived for the spring meeting of the World Bank, always held in the District, which in recent years has attracted anti-globalization protesters and others angry about often-unrelated issues.
The big issue this year, as of yesterday, proved to be creation of a Palestinian state.
The protests were so peaceful Walt Disney might have written the script. But with more demonstrations planned today and tomorrow, when Israeli leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will congregate at the Washington Hilton, police aren't dropping their guard.
From noon until midnight tomorrow, police will close a stretch of Connecticut Avenue NW, just north of Dupont Circle, where anti-Israel demonstrations are planned outside the Washington Hilton. Chief Ramsey yesterday reiterated his concern about clashes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
"What you've always got to be aware of is counterdemonstrators and making sure people don't let their emotions get carried away," the chief said.
Protesters also are expected to be back outside the downtown headquarters of the World Bank, where officials are concluding their spring meeting. And at 11 a.m. today a demonstration at the Washington Monument is aimed at changing U.S. policy toward Colombia.
D.C. police, U.S. Park Police, the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police who geared up for more than 50,000 protesters through the weekend say they're ready for the long haul.
A week of anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations two years ago resulted in about 1,200 arrests. After yesterday's peaceful protests, D.C. police said they arrested 25 demonstrators for unlawfully entering an underground parking garage in the 1000 block of 13th Street NW and using it as a sleeping area. Friday evening, police arrested 40 protesters on bicycles for disrupting rush-hour traffic.
While many were able to avoid downtown for the weekend, those going to work tomorrow morning could face traffic snarls. Colombian activists say that despite the lack of a permit, they'll march from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol starting at 7 a.m.
Yesterday morning, about 3,000 pro-Palestine demonstrators chanting "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Sharon must go" gathered in the 1800 block of Connecticut Avenue NW.
Dozens of men, eyes focused on the ground, walked circles around the crowd's center, holding open wooden coffins on their shoulders. Inside each lay a child. "This represents a funeral for the Palestinian children who have been killed by the Israelis," said Walid Abdul. In one coffin an 11-year-old boy, Sammi, smiled and waved at photographers rushing to snap shots of the procession.
Hundreds of others carried Palestinian flags and handmade signs decrying U.S. support of Israel and the Israeli army's search for terrorist suspects in Palestinian villages. The group was escorted south on Connecticut Avenue by more than 200 D.C. police officers riding motorcycles or on foot.
Police directed the demonstrators through the tunnel beneath Dupont Circle before heading south on 18th Street, where they converged with about 1,000 anti-globalization protesters gathered in Edward R. Murrow Park outside World Bank headquarters at 18th and H streets.
Robert Weissman, an organizer, closed the day's Mobilization for Global Justice rally with a boast: "We'll be back in the fall in numbers far greater than we are now."
To the surprise of police surrounding the park, the two groups merged smoothly and began marching east on H Street as one large parade en route to Freedom Plaza at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue where they would converge with even more groups holding rallies on the National Mall.
Police from Arlington and Fairfax counties in "soft hats" guarded the lines of the march, with Maryland state troopers clustered behind. Park police in visored helmets and body armor guarded LaFayette Park. One Arlington police officer said managing the merger of different protest groups was "a piece of cake." By 2 p.m. dozens of groups, including members of the New Black Panther Party and a contingency from Greenpeace, were massed at Freedom Plaza.
Behind them flowed thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, who had marched from a rally on the Ellipse that included speeches carried over a 10-foot-high television screen.
Across Constitution Avenue from the Palestinian demonstration, an alternative pro-Bush administration rally called "Patriots Rally for America" drew a modest crowd of about a hundred.
"Too often we take for granted our own liberties and the fact that America is the greatest force for good in the world," said Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, after his speech. "Our children need to know America is not an evil country."
As the afternoon wore on, the largest contingency of demonstrators, Arab and Muslim groups, swallowed all other groups as it marched toward the U.S. Capitol.
But one group that stood out was a New York-based contingent of Neturei Karta Orthodox Jews who condemn Zionism. With their trademark beards, long curls and black hats, members of the contingent repeatedly held hands with leaders of the pro-Palestinian march, launching the chant: "Jewish people, yes. Zionism, no!"
Some tourists expressed frustration with the crowds. Eric Laughridge of Nashua, Iowa, said he and his wife didn't know anything about the protests before they arrived in the city last night. "It's something we would never do where I come from in Iowa, but it's interesting to see," he said.
H.J. Brier contributed to this report.

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