D.C. Police Crack Down Early and Hard on Protesters

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Earlier this spring Washington, D.C., police chief Charles Ramsey must have looked at the video from December's anti-WTO protests in Seattle and said, not in my town. So when a crowd estimated at between 6,000 and 10,000 showed up to protest a meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Ramsey was ready. Police using pepper spray arrested 630 protesters Saturday (including a Washington Post photographer) and another 40 early Sunday. They also conducted raids, confiscating dozens of the metal "sleeping dragons" protesters use to lock their arms to form human chains, and fire marshals declared the warehouse where the demonstrators had set up their command post a fire hazard and shut it down.

Police are determined to avoid a repeat of the chaos of Seattle. But is this necessary? The protests are unlike those in Seattle in several key respects. For one thing, unlike Seattle, organized labor decided to sit this one out (instead focusing on lobbying the Clinton administration against China's entry into the WTO), which meant there are far fewer protesters in the streets. And many of the attendees in Seattle from Third World countries agreed with some of the protesters' points, making it easier to disrupt the meeting there. All of which means the police action could be a bit of overkill. Shutting down the staging area looked petty, and it's not a tremendously effective tactic against a protesting organization with few, if any, recognizable leaders and a diffuse management structure. Most of this organization from this movement comes from its various web sites. And there are no codes against that.