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Activists Decry Police Intimidation in Anti-Globalization Protests

2 September 2002

Note: for ongoing coverage of the protests in Washington around the annual World Bank and IMF meetings see

1 October 2002

Police used unconstitutional tactics and abused their authority when they arrested hundreds during the weekend anti-globalization protests, activists charged.

Police arrested more than 650 people in three days of protests coinciding with the annual World Bank and IMF meetings.

Washington D.C. police officers keep watch on protesters awaiting arrest, September 27, 2002. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The largest mass arrest took place next to Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington Friday, where some 250 people were surrounded by rows of riot police and herded into buses. Virtually all were charged with either failing to obey police orders or gathering without a permit.

Outraged activist lawyers Monday said police also tricked or bullied many of those arrested into paying a fine and not challenging the charges in court.

Police Chief Charles Ramsey employed "the tactics that a totalitarian regime would use," said John Passacantando, who said he was a bystander arrested in the Friday sweep.

Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace -- a group not involved in the protest organization -- said he was held for 17 hours on charges of failing to obey police orders, though the crowd he was in was not allowed to disperse.

Ramsey told reporters he was reacting to threats by some activists to bring the US capital to a standstill by blocking traffic.

The threat came from a small radical group called the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, which was not connected to the main Saturday protest organizers.

An attorney for the activists, Mark Goldstone, said the mass arrests Friday were "designed to disrupt and deter activists." He described it as "the criminalization of dissent."

"We were collectively branded as troublemakers," said one activist, Damu Smith, who said he was not allowed to cross a police perimeter to join the Saturday anti-globalization parade.

"I offer no excuses, and no apologies," Ramsey said at a late Monday press conference.

At the event Ramsey he gave his officers an "A+" grade for their weekend performance, and refused to sympathize with protesters who claimed to be victims of police excesses.

"These are the same people that threatened this city for months," Ramsey said. "Threatened to come in here and shut it down, threatened to break windows, and threatened to injure people. And now all of sudden they're victims?"

"I'm not buying it," he said.

On September 26, the day before the protests were to begin, Ramsey had threatened to jail violent protesters. "Those people that are apprehended will be missing several protests because they are going to be behind bars," he said.

On Friday 648 people were arrested, including bystanders caught up in a sweep. Six were arrested Saturday, including four found with homemade bombs and charged with weapons possession. The four were arraigned on Monday.

Police reported no arrests Sunday.

Activist attorneys warned they were collecting information to issue a legal response.

Police had prepared for 20,000 weekend protesters, but said that some 5,000 showed up for the main noisy but peaceful anti-globalization rally Saturday. March organizers said that up to 15,000 came to protest.

Sunday some 5,000 people marched against a possible US-led war against Iraq.

On Monday crews of workers screwed street benches back into place and brought out sidewalk trash cans that had been removed in anticipation of the protesters in downtown Washington.

And the 18-block area around the World Bank and IMF buildings that had been blocked off with concrete barriers since Friday was largely re-opened for traffic.

Published by Agence France Presse
© 2002 AFP

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