Protestors say that police arrest large numbers of people to get activists off streets and silence them. How many were arrested and charged at recent large events
*Less than 40 people charged.
By Derrick DePledge and Mike Madden / Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON — Looking back, Patricia Doyle Mohammadi might not have stepped off the curb during protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
She and her 13-year-old daughter, Mitra, had volunteered to help chronicle the April 2000 protests for a suburban cable television show. Drawn to the action by curiosity and a chance to play journalist for a day, now it appeared, they were going to jail.
Police had cornered several hundred activists on the street and were locking them up three at a time. When Doyle Mohammadi asked, “What’s going to happen to my daughter?” police answered by binding her hands with plastic ties and shipping her off with other protesters to a detention center.
Her choiceadmit to parading without a permit and pay a $50 fine, or wait hours — or maybe days — to see a judge.
Doyle Mohammadi paid.
Since anti-globalization protesters clashed with police in Seattle in 1999, thousands have been arrested at protests here and outside the national political conventions last summer in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Police contend that the arrests were justified to counter protesters bent on civil disobedience and, in some cases, violence and property damage. But organizers in the anti-globalization movement believe that police have exaggerated the risk as an excuse to sweep activists from the streets.
“They are silencing people,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney with the Partnership for Civil Justice, a public interest law firm representing protesters. “They are taking individuals who want to express their views and putting them in jails.”
A Gannett News Service review of the arrests and interviews with activists, police and prosecutors has found an overwhelming majority of those arrested either pleaded guilty to minor offenses or were never prosecuted at all.
Authorities agree that most demonstrators are peaceful, but claim that the potential for violence warrants police discretion about arrests.
“You get small groups that are bent not on First Amendment activity, but are determined to undertake criminal activity, and they use the peaceful demonstrators as a camouflage,” said Ken Trujillo, the city solicitor in Philadelphia.
Police here have pointed to the mass arrests in April 2000 — as well as violence at similar protests this year in Quebec and in Genoa, Italy, where one activist was killed by police — to defend plans for an immense show of force at World Bank and IMF meetings in late September.
District of Columbia police Chief Charles Ramsey has said he may supplement 2,000 officers with 3,000 from nearby jurisdictions.
Officials estimate that preparations, including overtime, equipment and supplies, will cost $30 million. The federal government will cover $16 million of the expense.
Ramsey and federal officials are studying how much of the capital to barricade to ensure that delegates are not threatened. A 9-foot-high fence is possible to block protesters from sections of downtown near the White House and the World Bank and IMF headquarters.
Ramsey has warned of possible violence and predicts as many as 100,000 protesters, far more than anticipated by organizers.
Many protesters insist that they are exercising their constitutional right to free speech and that they have been treated unfairly by police. At some demonstrations, protesters actually negotiated their own arrests to make political statements.