In another startlingly fast display of power, about six dozen D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers clad in riot gear and carrying billy clubs pushed through and broke up a crowd of about the same size that had gathered to protest near the Treasury Building Sunday at noon. In the process, a photographer fell to the ground and injured his head, leaving a bloody smear on 15th Street, and a grisly sign as the day's biggest protests were just getting under way.
Hee Soon Yim, a freelance photographer for the Associated Press, said he didn't remember anything that happened. But a gash on his head, and a daunting pool of blood next to him on the ground, told the story. While he initially resisted going, Yim eventually went to the hospital to be treated.
A pool of Hee Soon Yim's blood -- and other parts of his head -- on 15th Street.
James Keivom, a freelance photographer for the New York Daily News, said that Yim was taking pictures of the policeman when he saw a police officer push Yim to the ground with his billy club. A dozen or so of the protesters tried to resist the police drive-through; a few were arrested and hauled away. But the vast majority, seeing the street splashed red with Yim's blood, backed off. Some younger protesters were crying, while others began chanting, "Shame, shame" and, "We're not violent, how about you?"
Yim wasn't the only journalist caught up in the sweep -- this reporter was sitting on his bicycle next to the curb before the police swept down the street. Before I knew what was happening, a motorcycle cop ran into me, knocking me to the ground, and I was unable to get up as officers continued to shove me down as they passed by, driving over my bike. Cops purposely kicked me
as I tried in vain to get out of their way. They didn't act as if they were
interested in allowing me to get back on the sidewalk and away from their
boots. Cries that I was a member of the media didn't seem to mean much.
While this reporter remains generally no worse for wear, the bike's frame is bent, its rear tire is off and various parts are missing.
Meanwhile, two blocks away, at the Ellipse, near the White House, crowds seemed oblivious to the skirmish nearby. The setting was relaxed, as people held posters and a speaker railed against the alleged evils of General Electric. Here, only a handful of police officers were visible.
Police raid protest headquarters
By Alicia Montgomery [April 15, 2000]
Police and fire department officials dealt a blow to protesters of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Saturday morning with a surprise raid on their warehouse headquarters. Officials forced approximately 200 people out of the Mobilization for Global Justice "mobilization center," citing fire-code violations including blocked stairwells and improper wiring. They seized a 1-liter plastic Coke bottle with a rag stuffed inside, which police said could be used as a Molotov cocktail.
By the end of the day Saturday, 600 people had been arrested, as the D.C. police continued to show they're determined to prevent a replay of the disorder in Seattle last December.
When the cops arrived Saturday morning, protestors were forced to leave behind personal belongings, food, cooking equipment, medical supplies and the street-theater props they had spent the week assembling.
"The purpose was to ensure these young kids don't burn in a fire," Executive Assistant Chief of Police Terrance Gainer told reporters Saturday morning to explain the shutdown.
But protesters, who have been monitored by the police since their arrival in Washington earlier this week, offered a more sinister explanation.
"This is police harassment; it's the subversion of democracy," railed John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society and a key organizer of the protests. "It was a violation of our constitutional freedom and we're still going to be in the streets tomorrow, nonviolently, confronting these undemocratic institutions.
"They've resorted to a lot of surveillance and secrecy ... and used a lot of underhanded tactics to knock us off balance, but we're not going to allow them to. We'll be out in force tomorrow," Sellers said.
The raid also stranded several bus loads of protestors who arrived Saturday morning in preparation for Sunday's massive demonstration. The Mobilization for Global Justice is expecting a crowd of 80,000 at the first of two major protests planned for Sunday and Monday that will cap a week of smaller protests against the IMF and the World Bank.
Tension between the police and demonstrators has steadily escalated since the protests began April 9, but so far there have been fewer than 20 arrests. Outside the headquarters Saturday afternoon, over a dozen police officers blocked the street in front while protesters demonstrated outside. "We want our puppets," chanted the crowd, referring to the elaborate papier-mbchi figures of President Clinton and officials from the IMF and World Bank that were locked inside.
A man in a gold Range Rover drove past the crowd, beeped his horn repeatedly and flashed a peace sign. He was one of several motorists who made gestures of support for the demonstrators who were standing in the rain. Each time, the group cheered in response.
Police guarding the headquarters seemed subdued. A few conversed with demonstrators, who were eager to retrieve their possessions. One officer spoke at length with a protestor, then shook hands across the yellow tape. At 3:30 p.m. EDT, police announced that 20 protesters would be allowed back inside the building to retrieve their props and possessions. By the time they were actually let in, officials had increased that number to 31. Eventually, police joined in helping the demonstrators remove their supplies from the closed-off warehouse. And by the end of the day, many of the protesters' signs, banners and puppets had been liberated.
The amiable interaction was in marked contrast to the way police have treated protesters up till now. On Friday, officers seized items, including gas masks and chicken wire, from protesters, calling them ammunition. Some demonstrators have complained of police harassment, and, at another protest, officers failed to wear their badges or identify themselves, in direct violation of proper police practices.
"They're pushing it," said Spencer Boyer, civil liberties expert and Howard University Law School professor. Boyer said the police action hasn't threatened the constitutional rights of the demonstrators so far. But the authorities' zeal for preventing disorder is threatening to cross that line, he said. "With all these prophylactic measures against basically nonviolent protesters, the police seem to be forgetting that this is a free society."