- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

D.C. officials yesterday said they are committed to stopping anti-globalization demonstrators from shutting down the city during a day of protests next Friday.

"We will make sure the bridges and the major routes stay open," said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice.

Protest organizers representing the Anti-Capitalist Convergence have planned several demonstrations for the morning rush hour, vowing to target roads, bridges and even Metro subway stations to block people from coming into the city.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey on Wednesday warned that the protests, which coincide with the yearly meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, could result in gridlock.

Mrs. Kellems said the chief's comments were made, not because of any change in the approach police are taking to handle the protests, but because of changes the protesters have adopted in their tactics.

"It's because their strategy has changed," Mrs. Kellems said. "In the past, their efforts have been targeted toward the object of protest. This time, their plan is to spread out and decentralize into little cells and be disruptive. There's only so much we can do for that."

Mrs. Kellems said the city has received a commitment for $5 million from the U.S. Treasury Department to help pay for the costs of bringing in about 1,700 officers from other jurisdictions nationwide, as well as paying for the 1,600 Metropolitan Police officers who will be required to work overtime to cover the planned protests from Wednesday through Sunday.

The city has estimated the costs to be about $8.7 million.

Metro Transit Police officials yesterday said they are ready for protesters attempting to disrupt service.

"If they're blocking entrances, we'd certainly be prepared to address that situation," said Deputy Chief Jan Maden.

Chief Maden said transit police have received no specific intelligence on any planned disruptions, but transit police in riot gear from the force's civil-disturbance unit could be deployed against protesters obstructing access to subway stations.

Chief Maden said that about 200 of the force's authorized strength of 304 officers will be on duty during the demonstrations and no officers will be pulled from their beats.

Despite postings on one of the protest group's Web sites (www.abolishthebank.org) indicating plans for disrupting train service, Chief Maden said he's hopeful the weekend will be as uneventful as past demonstrations.

"We hope that all they're going to use us for is to be good customers," he said.

Longtime anti-globalization activists said the strategy shift is the result of a sense that some protest groups have lost their radical edge.

During April's protests, one frustrated demonstrator took hold of an open microphone during a rally at Edward R. Murrow Park, across from World Bank headquarters in Northwest, and complained that the traditional street theater and chanting tactics were not working. He then called on the crowd to charge the police lines. Organizers quickly recovered the microphone and disavowed the protester.

One activist said he expects the protesters, who represent a broad spectrum of environmental and social causes, to be a "smaller, more militant" group.

During past protests, Chief Ramsey has stressed police flexibility, occasionally allowing protesters to march without permits. Mrs. Kellems said police will show the same leniency if necessary to prevent larger unruliness but only to a point.

"What you will see change," Mrs. Kellems said, "is us taking conduct that we think is a threat to public safety more seriously." She said protesters blocking critical evacuation routes would lead to arrests and prosecutions.

"I think that our prosecutorial agencies are taking this kind of action very seriously because of the potential threat they pose," she said.

During the April 2000 protests, more than 10,000 protesters descended on the city, and showdowns with police led to more than 1,200 arrests. None of those cases mostly for failing to obey police officers led to convictions. Most of those cases were negotiated by the city's Office of Corporation Counsel.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard, said the prosecutor's office takes each of the protests seriously, adding "our awareness and our concern are certainly heightened."

Mrs. Kellems said the city remains committed to letting protesters protest, but refuses to let them engage in unlawful conduct.

"For the small group of folks that want to be unlawful here in Washington, it's been a frustrating experience for them not to be successful here in the past," she said.

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