Thousands of protesters are expected to descend on the District Saturday as part of a nationally organized demonstration demanding police reforms in the wake of two high-profile incidents in which white police officers faced no charges after killing unarmed black men.
The Al Sharpton-led march will join with several families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police, including the family of Michael Brown, whose fatal shooting by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked national outcry against aggressive police tactics.
Near-nightly protests have shut down D.C. streets in the three weeks since a grand jury decided not to indict Mr. Wilson, who has since resigned from the force. But arrests at the scene of protests have been few and actions by the Metropolitan Police Department have garnered praise for the agency’s light-handed approach to dealing with protesters.
But given the magnitude of Saturday’s event and the nature of the protests, civil rights activists and police monitors will be out in force to educate protesters and document any clashes.
The District’s Office of Police Complaints is deploying teams specifically to monitor MPD’s response to the march. It will be the first time the office has sent teams to monitor a protest since the 2009 International Monetary Fund demonstrations.
“Our primary goal is to make observations. We’ll be noting whether MPD is following its own procedures,” police complaints director Michael Tobin said, adding that he will be deployed alongside the police department’s incident commander during the march.
“We’re anticipating this to be larger assembly than what we’ve been seeing over the past month or two,” Mr. Tobin said. “That’s why we’re getting involved in it.”
The agency will release an after-action report on monitors observations of the demonstration.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union plans to distribute T-shirts and postcards to inform participants of their rights while protesting. The “Know Your Rights” messaging was prompted in part by some of the protests that occurred in Ferguson, during which protestors and journalists were both arrested.
Despite the steady occurrence of protests in the District, Ferguson-related demonstrations have resulted in only 10 arrests, eight of which were made when protesters blocked I-395, said MPD spokesman Lt. Sean Conboy.
The agency has not always taken such a relaxed approach to demonstrations, and lawsuits filed as a result of those clashes may have helped to temper the police department’s aggressive tactics. Mass arrests made during 2002 protests at Pershing Park resulted in lawsuits that the District paid millions of dollars to settle.
The police department’s role in Saturday’s event will be to close roads along the march route and to monitor the event, Lt. Conboy said.
Mr. Sharpton’s “Justice for All March” is scheduled to rally at Freedom Plaza in Northwest beginning at 10:30 a.m. The march will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue at noon to the Capitol.
The NAACP will use the march as a way to advocate for the adoption of national standards on the use of force by police agencies and to ban on racial profiling by police. Local advocates are continuing to push for procedures they say will increase police accountability such as the use of body-worn cameras by officers. MPD is currently testing the use of such cameras through a pilot program.