By JOHN KIFNERPolice move against trade demonstrators
April 15, 2000
WASHINGTON, April 15 -- In a pre-emptive show of force, the police this morning shut down the headquarters of protesters who were determined to stop the World Bank meeting, and as darkness fell tonight they arrested several hundred demonstrators they had penned in for more than an hour.
Lines of police officers in riot helmets stamped their feet rhythmically and pumped their nightsticks in front of their chests as they moved in on the protesters a few blocks from the bank headquarters.
"They're afraid we're going to shut down the World Bank, and we are," shouted a protester who identified herself as "Maggie Lawless," as she and others were led in plastic handcuffs to waiting buses.
By late evening, the authorities said, about 600 people had been arrested. They faced charges of parading without a permit and possibly with obstructing traffic, although the march, under continuous police escort, caused little serious disruption on the city's streets as the marchers mainly stayed on sidewalks..
The group of demonstrators had been marching through downtown streets -- progressively blocked off by the police during the day -- when they found themselves blocked, then surrounded by city police officers on a block of 20th Street, between K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
As the standoff continued, police reinforcements, including the riot-equipped Emergency Response Team, two armored cars and squadrons of motorcycles, poured in.
Although the marchers and their supporters on nearby sidewalks chanted for the police to let them go, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said later that the crowd had refused police orders to disperse. Reporters who had observed the march had not heard any such order.
The arrested demonstrators were to be photographed, fingerprinted and held overnight before arraignment, a process that Mr. Ramsey said would make it unlikely that they would be freed by early morning. Many demonstrators have said they had intended to be arrested on Sunday morning, the main day of their planned protests.
The day began with the police, contending that the ramshackle warren of warehouses known as the "Convergence Center" was a fire hazard, evicting more than 200 protesters shortly before 9 a.m and sealing it off indefinitely.
The site was the nerve center for demonstrations planned for the next two days as a repeat of the chaotic Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization in December.
"The fire marshals were concerned about the safety and well-being of the people who are staying at that location," Chief Ramsey said.
"It's a safety issue."
Under an umbrella organization called Mobilization for Global Justice, adherents of a number of causes plan two days of demonstrations here against the annual spring meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, beginning on Sunday. The protesters contend that the freer flow of money, goods and labor across borders and the financial institutions' development policies are destroying the environment and hurting poor people.
The unexpected shutdown of their headquarters and the arrests today threw their plans in doubt, although many of the demonstrators were expecting to act on their own in small groups. They have vowed to block finance ministers and other delegates from attending the meetings.
"The finance ministers and international bureaucrats who shape the world economy to make the rich richer and the poor poorer need to know that Seattle was not just a bump on their road to global domination," the mobilization declared on its Web site, one of the demonstrator's primary organizing tools.
But, as today's standoff demonstrated, the protesters will be facing an armada of at least 1,500 police officers from a half-dozen city and federal agencies determined to prevent any repeat of the chaos at the meeting last year in Seattle. .
Shortly after 8:30 a.m., two fire marshals, accompanied by two Metropolitan Police officers who said they were with the Nuisance Abatement Task Force, appeared at the protesters' headquarters, where the activists had been holding workshops in nonviolent tactics and making other preparations. The officials said they were checking for a possible fire hazard.
Within minutes, the area was sealed off by the officers of the Emergency Response Team. Shouting demonstrators clutching their sleeping bags and backpacks were escorted to the streets, and ranking officers briefed the news media.
Chief Gainer said the fire marshals had found "numerous" violations, including clogged stairwells, propane cooking stoves and jury-rigged electrical wiring. He denied that the shutdown was intended to thwart the protesters, saying, "No, the real purpose was that these kids don't burn themselves up in a fire."
The protesters, clustered outside the police lines, differed.
"This just indicates how the police are in league with corrupt governments, the I.M.F. and the World Bank," said Han Shan, a member of the mobilization, calling the talk of possible conflagration "spurious."
Clusters of mostly young demonstrators wandered the city's streets this morning, many of them having organized protest groups at their colleges in recent weeks.
The headquarters for the protesters was a set of old warehouses down an alley in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. In one corner of the alley on Friday, young mechanics worked on donated bicycles to be used by couriers during the demonstrations.
Early arrivals diligently painted banners, while another group practiced with giant puppets dressed in banker's suits, representing their targets. To the beat of drums and muffled giggles, the banker-puppets high-fived one another.