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D.C. Police Thwart Peaceful Demonstration

By Jennifer Krishnan


This past weekend I learned what pepper spray smelled like.

It came after we had marched halfway across Washington, D.C., from Union Station to the World Bank Building, had been blockaded into a Plaza for nearly two hours, and were being “escorted” -- herded like sheep -- to Freedom Plaza. The pepper spray wasn’t aimed at me, but I could still taste its bitterness.

I went to Washington to voice my opinions on war, and came away with deep misgivings about the future of liberties in America.

The day began outside Union Station at nine o’clock in the morning. When we got there, a crowd was starting to gather. My co-protesters ranged from the militant-looking black-clad anarchists to the more peaceful-looking “one-world” advocates. The first thing that I noticed was that almost everyone had a bandanna. Great, I thought, let’s all just perpetuate the stereotypes about crazy radicals.

Then my friend pulled a bandanna out of his pocket and said he hoped he wouldn’t need it, and it all clicked. The bandannas were more than just style; they were protection in case the police let loose the tear gas.

I still wasn’t too worried. After all, why would anyone gas a peaceful protest?

Here come the cops

On our way to Union Station, we passed by a bus full of cops. They certainly didn’t seem to be anticipating a peaceful rally; I’d never seen so many cops in one place in my life. The best part of the picture, though, was the half-empty bottle of alcohol next to the bus.

Riot cops look silly. They have more padding than football players,and these funny helmets you’d think exterminators would wear. They carry big black sticks and clear shields, and their belts are loaded with Mace.

There were riot cops on foot, riot cops on motorcycles, police cars following close behind us, and police on horseback that we met along the way. While our morning march was flanked and followed by police, I wasn’t enormously worried. They weren’t arresting anyone; they weren’t doing much more than honking at the people marching at the end of the group.

Under arrest?

When we got to the World Bank building, we stopped. I’m not entirely sure whether we stopped because of the police blocking the road, or whether the plan was actually to stop there. At any rate, most of us had plans to head to the other rally in Freedom Plaza. The people who I was with asked how to get there, and we turned back the way we came.

The way was blocked.

While my companions faced off with the policemen, I wandered the perimeter of the plaza. There were riot cops lining the whole place, and there was absolutely no way out. The police weren’t letting people out. They weren’t telling us why. They wouldn’t give out their badge numbers. They wouldn’t tell us if we were under arrest.

They had effectively turned the plaza into a temporary jail.

Escorted to Freedom

We were detained in the square for nearly two hours. Some people started up a soccer game; others took the opportunity to reiterate their messages with sidewalk chalk. My favorite? “All your street are belong to us.” My favorite makeshift sign? “Welcome to G.W. Bush Federal Prison.”

We surmised that the police were trying to prevent us from joining the other rally. After lots of phone calls on the part of the lawyers in the groups and threats of an injunction, the cops agreed to “escort” us to Freedom Plaza. In other words, they blocked us from all four sides, and herded us over to the Plaza.

On the way, a small group tried to break through the police line. They were pushed back into the middle of the group, and the cops broke out their pepper spray.

Someone wanted to join us from the street. The police shoved him away. They eventually let him join in, but only after shoving him around quite a bit.

We finally got to Freedom Plaza, joining over 10,000 others in a permitted rally. We were still surrounded by cops, but hey, at least they weren’t shoving us around any more.

I’m no expert on the laws of Washington D.C., but detaining a thousand people in a plaza without really arresting them or telling them why doesn’t sound very legal to me. Yet it happened, in the capital of the United States, the “bastion of freedom.”

And as some of the people who marched along with us chanted, “that is what a police state looks like.”