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DC Cops Determined to Not Replay Seattle

by Jason Vest

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WASHINGTON -- In all the years he's run the homeless shelter at 11th and M streets in Northwest Washington, Harold Moss has never had the fire marshal show up demanding to inspect the premises.

Never, that is, until last week. Moss opened his doors to the Midnight Special Legal Collective, a handful of progressive activist lawyers from Seattle in town for the massive protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Suddenly, the fire marshal was interested in going over the place with a fine-tooth comb. "I couldn't prove it one way or another, but in all probability, he showed up because of [the protesters]being here," said Moss, who has managed to stave off the inspector inspection.

While at first blush any sort of alliance between homeless activists and anti-IMF protesters might seem incongruous, Moss is excited at the prospect; as taxed-but-not-represented DC residents have a well-documented history of suffering at the hands of the same Congress that subsidizes the IMF and World Bank. It's only natural, he says, that "we'd want to link the presence of the activists coming down to protest the actions of oppression of the third world with the oppression people get in Washington, D.C."

But, he adds, this is a concept he expects people in power might find more than a little threatening.

Surveillance and Implicit Threats by Police
A number of incidents in the past week seem to support Moss's view.

Since late March, a number of activists and organizers (as well as a few journalists) have been subjected to measures ranging from surveillance, implicit threats and bureaucratic intransigence apparently designed to marginalize the effectiveness of their mission.

What makes the situation all the more maddening is that such actions are apparently being taken based on the ridiculous view that every protester or activist is an anarchist time bomb waiting to go off -- a view apparently buttressed by unspecified police "intelligence" that may or may not be true.

Nader Panel: In League with Starbucks-Smashing Anarchists?
At American University, for example, student activists were anticipating an enthusiastic turnout for a Wednesday night "globalization panel" featuring an array of activists and scholars from left to right.

Last weekend, AU suddenly pulled the plug on the event.

Carrie Ferrence, an AU student activist, says she asked David Taylor, chief of staff to AU's president, for the rationale behind the cancellation. According to Ferrence, Taylor replied that Washington's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) told him that "they had information from both on and off campus sources that this event would be targeted for some kind of disruption," but that "they said they wouldn't provide any security for the event."

When Ferrence began to ask questions in an effort to gauge the reliability of the "information," Taylor, she said, "wouldn't reveal his sources." (Taylor did not return this reporter's calls.)

Ferrence says she (and no one else she knows) was aware of any plans for protests: "This was not going to be a biased forum, but a forum designed to show all sides of the issue," she says.

And, says another AU activist who declined to be identified, "I have a hard time believing that property-bashing anarchists -- who are hardly representative of protesters in Seattle or here -- would make a Ralph Nader panel at AU a target for destruction. How reliable is the police's intelligence? Have they actually analyzed it, or are they treating a rumour as real?"

AU Knuckles Under, Georgetown and GW Crack Down
While AU did cancel the panel, the university is still granting out-of-town student protesters sleeping space in open lounges.

But across town at George Washington University -- which owns the World Bank building, as well as one of the IMF's buildings -- the scene seems to invite comparison to the totalitarian nightmare which so many people fear awaits little Elian upon his return to Cuba.

"We know they're reading our emails, and I'm fairly convinced my phone is tapped too," says GW student activist Dan Calamuci over a phone line replete with loud, regular clicking noises that he swears weren't there until about a week ago.

"Last week, we did a speakout -- just seven of us with a bullhorn -- at the corner of 21st and H. Within a few minutes, five cops showed up, three of whom were undercover, or trying to be -- talking into cell phones saying, 'We have three guys and four girls on the corner and this is what they're saying.'" It was not, says Calamuci, the height of surreptitious behavior.

And then there is the matter of postering. "Apparently you can leave theater posters up for weeks, but political messages, forget it," says Calamuci. "At the academic center on the corner of 22nd and H is a big plate glass window where we put flyers up Sunday night around ten o'clock. There were others posters there, too -- nothing had been cleared from that area in a week. Monday morning they were all gone." Calamuci suspects the police paid the bulletin board a visit.

And while AU at least offers a place for some protesters to sleep, GW has opted for the siege mentality: starting on Friday, the university will be in state of virtual lockdown; out of town students are not welcome, even for those whose visits are unrelated to the protests.

"We were hoping to house people in the dorms, and we offered to meet with the administration many times-while there was a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, they made the decision without consulting one 'a16' person," says Calamuci, referring to one of the coalitions sponsoring this week's protests. "This is totally undemocratic bullshit they're pulling with us." (GWU officials did not return this reporter's calls.)

Cops to Activist: No Roots of Dissent on Your Farm
Elsewhere, even property owners aren't immune from unnecessarily watchful, if not intimidating, eyes. Last Tuesday, Bettie Hoover, the head of the DC chapter of the American Friends Service Committee and a veteran social justice activist, was surprised to learn that two Howard Country police detectives were casing her Maryland farm.

"One of my family found these detectives walking around my property," says Hoover, who had listed her farm on the a16 organizing Web site as a camping haven for protesters. "I said, 'Excuse me, who told you to come by,' but they never really did tell me. But they did threaten me with zoning violations if I let people camp.

"This guy didn't know diddly -- he didn't know what the regulations were and I did -- and I said to him,' I don't appreciate this harassment.' He said, 'Oh, no, ma'am, we're not harassing you, we're just here to help.'"

Hoover's tone does not indicate a belief in the obliging verbal gestures of the constabulary. "I've had the FBI out there before taking pictures, being very direct," she says, recalling her work with the perennially-harassed CISPES in the 80s, "but I've never had anything like this happen."

Even surrounding school systems are on alert. Last week the Montgomery County School System issued a circular advising educators to "be observant for any material referring to the upcoming International Monetary Fund rallies".

In the circular, the easily-contactable Mobilization for Global Justice becomes an enigmatic object of "concern" by Washington, DC Police because the group might "attempt to recruit high school students to join in a planned rally." From here, it goes over the top: "The police reported the following: 'Splinter groups, possibly associated with this group, took part in the recent demonstration in Seattle that turned violent.'"

"It is egregious," seethes Mobilization for Global Justice's Adam Eidinger. "The Mobilization and its organizers did not engage in property destruction in Seattle. What the police are doing is generalizing a non-violent peaceful movement based on the efforts of a few dozen people in Seattle who were looking for an opportunity to smash stuff in the first place. And I don't believe even that justifies this level of investigation, harassment or intimidation. I do believe if the police succeed in convincing the public that there will be violence, it actually increases the likelihood."

Indeed, the mere mention of "IMF" seems to inspire a law enforcement response that automatically presumes violence.

Several DC community activists and organizers, for example, have been fighting a new city initiative aimed at forcing slumlords to tend to their properties, because they say it could use some amending. In particular, the document allows the city to evict tenants for the sins of the slumlords -- that is, if a building is in bad shape.

In a show of solidarity with those efforts, several dozen anti-IMF protesters joined housing activists and tenants from the Columbia Heights neighborhood for a trip to Judiciary Square, where DC Mayor Anthony Williams' office is. Upon arrival, the group beheld a stoic-looking squadron of approximately 50 police officers lined up by the one open door. When the group tried to enter, police blocked the doorway.

According to Martin Thomas, a DC resident and IMF protester, the police eventually let Griffith and his group inside for a scheduled appointment with the mayor. But everyone, was taken aback by the shrill level of police activity. "I talked to my council member about it and asked what the hell was going on," Thomas said. "He said it was because of the IMF and World Bank protests. They're really being repressive and trying to squash all solidarity efforts."

"I actually talked to some of the cops," Thomas continued, and "I said, 'We've done demonstrations here all the time, and there aren't ever this many of you here. Why are you all here?' And the cop I was talking too replied, 'This isn't like any other demonstration.'"

A former staffer for US News & World Report and the Village Voice, Jason Vest is a national correspondent for and In These Times

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Albion Monitor April 15, 2000 (

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