Blair students arrested at protests

Oct. 1, 2002, midnight | By Laura Blythe-Goodman | 21 years, 4 months ago

Three students tell their story

Senior Spencer Lee never intended on getting arrested last Friday, but he was. Soon after, he was released without being charged from a Washington D.C. juvenile center a little after 1:00 p.m. on Friday.

Before leaving for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests at six thirty in the morning Friday, September 27, Lee and the other students decided they would stay away from any violence or destruction of property done by the protesters. They boarded the metro headed for Metro Center and on arrival saw the protests beginning to be chaotic. "It was already starting to get a little bit frantic," Lee said. "The protesters were spilling onto the road."

Lee and his friends were on a street corner near the protesters when a police officer told them that if they did not move, they would be arrested. Lee moved with his friends away from the protesters, but he saw the protests behind them getting even more hectic. "Things started to get out of hand. The police started to drag people off and arrest them," Lee said.

After being directed by the police off the street corner, the people Lee had been gathered around decided to continue their protests. "The group that had dispersed got back together and started to march," Lee said.

Some of the protesters in the newly formed march started to become a little violent and Lee's Blair group tried to avoid them. "Some of the protesters started to knock things over; we moved to get away from the property destruction. We stopped and talked about it and decided to continue with a smaller group who didn't want to be a part of the violence," Lee said.

A female Blair senior who wishes to remain nameless also went to the protests with the intentions of remaining peaceful. She wore a shirt that said non-violence on it to "show not all protesters are violent." She also was preparing for the threat of arrest by wearing the shirt. "I thought, worse case scenario, if I got arrested, they'd see my shirt and know the police were wrong," she said.

The charge the police eventually told the students they could be charged with was "failure to obey a police officer." However, the female student disagrees and thinks "basically we did obey them." The police directions confused her. "I remember going onto the sidewalk and they were like move. What do you want us to do, go on the street?" she says.

Lee and the Blair group continued their march and were directed by the police to walk down a street. After following the officers' directions, Lee said, some other protesters were "corralled and pressed against a building and were surrounded by police." They then had to kneel and wait to be arrested. "It was so degrading," says the female student.

The group tried to avoid the situation, but were unable to. "I kept thinking there must be some way out. We can't be arrested, we didn't do anything wrong," said the female student.

A male Blair junior who wishes to remain nameless and was also at the protests noticed the police were only surrounding certain people. "There was a lot of stereotyping, they let anyone wearing a business suit get out, but if anyone looked under thirty and dressed a little different, they were breaking the law," said the student.

Lee's group was pressed against the wall by the police, their hands bound with plastic handcuffs, and led onto some busses that served, Lee said, as "makeshift paddy-wagons." All of this was done protester by protester by the police who were "hardly out-numbered," said Lee.

The female senior remembers the feeling she had the moment when the police told the protesters to "turn around and put your hands on the wall and that was when we knew that we were getting arrested. And it was a bad feeling."

Lee and the other protesters were confused from the lack of information given by the police. "There were no charges made. They didn't read us our rights. People started to ask 'what's going on,' " said Lee.

The male junior also had a confusing experience trying to find out information from the police. "I asked a cop if we were being arrested or detained and he just said yes," the male student says. He adds that "some cops didn't have badge numbers."

According to Washington Post article "Did D.C. Police Go Too Far?" there was some disagreement between legal experts as to the appropriateness of the polices' actions. The article goes on to say that some people feel the police did not give enough warning and that "Washington Post reporters in
Pershing Park did not hear any police commands to disperse or warnings that arrests would be made."

The confusion about the nature of the charges did not end with the police paperwork at the police academy in Southwest, where Lee's bus and several other busses of arrested protesters were brought. "The police told us to leave the charge blank on arrest sheets," said Lee. "They hadn't decided what they were charging us with yet."

The police took the juveniles to a D.C. juvenile center and separated the boys and girls. They also put on looser handcuffs and the male junior used this opportunity to call the legal number that many people had written on their arms before the protests.

When the plastic handcuffs were removed, Lee saw that the handcuffs had injured many people's wrists. One girl's wrist had been "gashed" when the police cut the handcuffs off because the plastic had been fastened so tightly, says the male junior.

Originally, the minors were told the only way they would not have to spend the weekend in the juvenile center would be if their parents picked them up. Some of the kids, however, had parents in places like Kentucky or New York. Also some, like Lee, had parents who could not be reached. The police left a message on Lee's answering machine that said Lee was being charged with "unlawful assembly." Lee still had not been told anything about his charges.

The police there were very "polite," Lee said, and Lee eventually was allowed to leave with his friend's parents. No charges were pressed on any of the students in the group.

Lee was very upset by the officers' actions during the protests and thought that the "police definitely overstepped their bounds." Some people who were not protesting were arrested. "A bunch of law students got arrested because they looked young," Lee said. Some members of the press who were in the midst of the protest were also arrested.

The female senior was also distressed by the polices' actions and felt that these actions infringed on her personal rights. "You can't really say we have freedom of speech or freedom of assembly if you have to go and get a permit," she said. "It showed me how quickly your freedom can be taken away."

Lee attributed the police's behavior to D.C. Police Charles Chief Ramsey's attitude toward the protests. "It was all Ramsey. He had said beforehand that the police should use whatever means necessary," Lee said. "Police Chief Ramsey basically ordered a preemptive strike."

In the article "Did D.C. Police Go Too Far?" , Attorney Mark Goldstone "decried what he called the 'Ramsey Plan,' saying D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey had protesters arrested en masse, then detained them so they would miss other demonstrations."

Even with the end result, the male junior has no regrets about his decision to protest that day. "We never got to see the IMF or World Bank, but I think it was still a success. I don't think anyone thought it was a failure," he says.

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Laura Blythe-Goodman. Laura is a senior this year. In her spare time, she learns how to play the guitar and talks to Emma. More »

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