- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Metropolitan Police Department said yesterday it will respond aggressively to protesters who seek to "trash property" or block roadways during major demonstrations expected in Washington this week.
A "Citizens Advisory" issued by police yesterday identified an activist Web site that calls on protesters to commit such acts as "trashing the inside of a retail chain store, smashing a McDonald's window, whacking a CEO [and] puncturing cop car tires."
Police said they will treat acts of violence and disruption no differently than any random acts of vandalism.
During statements made last week, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey appeared to be embracing a more tolerant approach to the protests, which coincide with the yearly meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
While the latest advisory noted that the call to destroy property is not "representative of the majority of those planning to demonstrate," it clearly indicates the chief is taking a hard-line stance on protesters who do anything beyond peacefully rallying.
"If you chuck a brick through a window, it doesn't matter when you do it, it's still considered destruction of property," said police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile. "If you get caught, the official charge would be destruction of property and it would be up to a judge whether you spent time in jail for it or were ordered to pay a fine or both."
Police said the anarchist organization, Fighting the Octopus/Global Action Against Capitalism, is using its Web site (www.infoshop.org) to call on demonstrators to target people and establishments.
"Some of the listed targets include Starbucks, McDonald's, AFL-CIO, Washington Post, Teamsters, NBC, Taco Bell, etc.," the police advisory said. "This site grants points to demonstrators for certain actions, some of which are violent and criminal in nature."
Whether random or directed, acts of vandalism during protests can be difficult to prevent, police said. Little can be done about a smashed window or looted store unless a culprit is caught in the act or later identified and arrested.
"Let's say 20 people are standing around and someone picks up a stone and smashes a window with it. You are not going to charge 20 people with destruction of property. You are only going to charge the person who threw the stone," Sgt. Gentile said.
The nature of the law makes it difficult to hold people responsible for damage committed during riotlike scenarios, according to business leaders in cities where property damage was wreaked during violent demonstrations of years past.
Authorities dealing with vandalism in Seattle, where violent protests disrupted an annual meeting of the World Trade Organization in 1999, encountered difficulty catching individuals who could be charged for damage caused by a large group.
"After the WTO, unless the business owners had insurance, there was no financial compensation for the damage," said Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association.
Bill Stafford, president of the Seattle-based Trade Development Alliance, said little can be done about damage caused during a big protest if police "don't catch somebody in the act and your insurance policy doesn't cover the damage."
It's an upsetting problem being faced this week by small and large business owners in the District. "People have a right to protest in this country, but that doesn't mean you can go around wrecking other people's property," said Frank Vitello, executive director of the District-based group, Defenders of Property Rights.
"As a business owner, you have the same rights that you would if somebody walked up to you in the street and punched you in the mouth," he said.
But nothing can be done about it if the culprit is not caught by police. So last week, police began taking steps to advise businesses of ways to minimize the amount of property damage if the protests turn ugly.
On Monday, Chief Ramsey briefed about 100 business operators gathered downtown at the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
The chief took special care to advise businesses to remove from areas around their workplaces all sidewalk furniture, flower pots, plants, newspaper bins, ashtrays, construction debris and any other materials that could be used as projectiles by wild protesters.
Beyond saying "it could be in the thousands," police yesterday declined to estimate how many protesters might attend the demonstrations. As in the protests of April 2000, the bulk of the action is expected to take place west of the White House, in the blocks surrounding the World Bank and International Monetary Fund headquarters at 19th and K streets NW.
While police make plans for handling potential violence, several different protest organizers have been voicing concerns of their own about potential clashes, not only with police but between demonstrators who try to employ different tactics.
At a news conference yesterday, organizers with the Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ) drew a clear line between their group and those seeking to trash property, block roadways and effectively "shut down the city."
MGJ the principal sponsor of the April 2000 demonstrations in which 1,200 persons were arrested said there has been a "philosophical rift" between their group and other groups that advocate unlawful methods.
"There are some folks who are more willing to go outside the box we established," protest organizer Soren Ambrose said.
He said MGJ respects the rights of the other groups to use different means, but it is "not encouraging" demonstrators to participate in disruptive activities expected to occur on Friday.
The week of protests got off to a slow start yesterday, when fewer than a dozen demonstrators carrying an oversized cigarette box turned out for anti-tobacco industry rally outside World Bank headquarters at 19th and H streets in Northwest.
The protesters were outnumbered by the dozens of police officers, reporters, cameramen and photographers who had converged on the site.

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