Antiwar Protesters Spar With Police
By Manny Fernandez and Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 22, 2003; 5:21 PM
Antiwar demonstrators descended on the White House and Northwest Washington neighborhoods today in an improvised day of protests marked by sometimes-tense standoffs with police at Lafayette Square and near Logan Circle.
Unlike antiwar marches in Washington in recent weeks, in which organizers have largely worked with authorities to map out march routes, moments of the demonstrations took place in defiance of a heavy federal and local police presence.
Shortly after noon at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, marchers brushed aside barricades to gain access into Lafayette Square across from the White House, which has been closed to demonstrations larger than 25 people following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Later, as a several hundred marchers left the square to head up 14th Street, the chanting protesters circled back on themselves and ducked into alleys near Logan Circle to escape a police escort.
Several protesters said they were outraged when District police pinned them in on Rhode Island Avenue between 14th and 15th streets for nearly an hour beginning about 1:30 p.m. "I think it's disgusting that they aren't letting us exercise our First Amendment rights, trying to contain us so no one can see us," said Pam Parker, 41, a Silver Spring research analyst who stood near a line of shoulder-to-shoulder police.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the protesters were blocked because they were marching on a route that deviated from their permit. "They continued to deviate from that permitted route," Ramsey said. "We can't have a situation where they just try to shut down the entire section."
The situation ended without mass arrests after Ramsey said he had reached agreement with protest organizers to let those who wanted to go home leave and allow the rest to continue on their permitted route. The march proceeded through Adams Morgan, before circling back down 16th Street to return to the White House.
Ramsey said he wanted to negotiate before making any arrests. "We thought we'd reason with them first," he said. "They have a right to be here. They have a right to protest."
Organizers with the antiwar coalition International ANSWER, which called for the demonstration, said the march drew a couple thousand. Sgt. Joe Gentile, a spokesman for the D.C. police, would not give a crowd estimate. Police made one arrest about 3 p.m. in the 1800 block of California Avenue NW. The protester, whose name was not immediately released, was charged with two counts of assault on police after allegedly pushing one officer who was riding a bicycle into another, causing them both to fall to the ground.
Park police said they made one arrest for statue-climbing in Lafayette Park, a federal violation.
Today's demonstration was the latest in a series of antiwar gatherings in Washington, organized by a variety of peace groups, that have led to roughly 100 arrests since Monday for acts of civil disobedience. The rally and march were just a few of the antiwar demonstrations around the country, from New York City to San Francisco.
The day began in Washington at Farragut Square, where dozens of activists gathered around noon before marching past the White House on H Street. At 15th Street and Pennsylvania, as the marchers converged in front of metal barricades at about 12:15 p.m., a young man blared an antiwar Guns N' Roses song on a portable stereo as people chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, we won't fight for Texaco!"
As U.S. Park Police officers looked on, protesters pushed aside barricades and marched into the park. There, they gathered behind another set of barricades on the brick sidewalk across from the closed Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House fence. A large contingent of Park police and uniformed Secret Service officers on foot, motorcycles and horseback lined the pavement and the White House side of the sidewalk, many in riot helmets.
The protest drew activists from all walks of life: youth with black bandanas over their faces waving the black flag of anarchy; middle-aged parents with children in tow; and longtime activists of all ages from groups such as the International Socialist Organization, Greenpeace and the National Organization for Women. Activists called the "shock and awe" pummeling of Baghdad a kind of terrorism.
"Rumsfeld and Bush have decided to borrow a page from the worst nightmare of the Vietnam War, when the U.S. commander in the field made that famous utterance that U.S. troops were burning a village in South Vietnam to save it from communism," said ANSWER organizer Brian Becker, 50. "Now Bush and Rumsfeld are burning Baghdad, where 4.5 million human beings live, in order to save the people from Saddam Hussein."
Justin Beveridge, an American University junior, stood in the park holding a sign he made the night before reading, "Shock and awe = terrorism." The 22-year-old said: "The whole purpose behind shock and awe is the same as terrorism, which is what they're supposed to be fighting."
After about an hour, as Park Police on horseback drew closer, Becker and other organizers led the crowd off the park and onto H Street, where the group went up 14th Street. Along the way, a group of men, one of whom wore a T-shirt reading "Iraq first, then France," jeered the marchers and waved American flags. At Thomas Circle, a man in a silver Saturn caught in traffic honked his horn in support, as marchers applauded.
The route was being crafted on-the-spot, at one point circling in on itself at Thomas Circle before ending up on Rhode Island, where a several hundred filled about a quarter of the four-lane block. People stood on their balconies in the apartment buildings lining the block to watch the spectacle. Some police officers wore bullet proof vests and stood with canisters of what appeared to be tear gas, refusing to let protesters leave. Officers closed 15th Street to traffic, blocking it with dozens of police cars, vans and motorcycles. A police helicopter hovered above as protestors chanted "Let us through! Let us through!"
Protesters plan to continue their call for peace on Sunday, with a small group of runners in the cancelled Washington Marathon holding a "Nobody Wins" antiwar marathon at Lafayette Square. Veterans for Peace is also planning a noon demonstration on the Mall. As a counter-point, the D.C. chapter of the conservative group Free Republic is planning to hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial at 1 p.m. to support the troops and the liberation of Iraq.