D.C. police plan to use nine-foot-high fencing to cordon off most of the area around the White House, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to restrict protesters on the final weekend of September.
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer yesterday outlined what he described as one of the main strategies authorities have devised for containing demonstrations during IMF and World Bank meetings. He said another strategy was to ask protesters to monitor their own ranks.
His comments came on the eve of a briefing by city officials to outline preparations for the fall meetings of the two world financial bodies and for the nearly 50,000 protesters authorities anticipate. Other city officials said they were unaware of plans for a buffer zone. Meetings such as today's are intended to brief the public on the progress of preparations, officials said.
Protest organizers and their supporters reacted angrily to the fencing plan. "We believe [police] should not be turning Washington, D.C., into a police state," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer for protesters. "If we pride ourselves on having a democracy and having democratic freedoms, we should not carve out sections of the city."
Protesters want to draw attention to problems of globalization, which they see as benefiting rich nations at the expense of poor nations.
Gainer said police and other city officials have met with White House officials twice this week to discuss plans and funding to underwrite them. Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said a decision on funding has not been made. "We are committed to ensuring the safety of those who live and work here, as well as the visitors to Washington," Buchan said.
Gainer said the plan, although not complete, was to enclose a section of the city with higher fencing than ever used before in the capital. The steel hurricane fencing, set in Jersey barriers, would cost about $1.8 million of the $30 million that officials have requested from the White House.
Gainer said police hoped to allow protesters in Edward R. Murrow Park, across from the World Bank, and on the Ellipse, but that was uncertain. Murrow Park, favored by World Bank protesters as a gathering place, could hold about 7,000 people -- those who arrive first, he said.
The fencing could encompass an area of Northwest Washington roughly between H Street on the north, 15th Street on the east, Constitution Avenue on the south and 21st or 22nd Street on the west. Gainer said the enclosed area would be about the same as for the IMF-World Bank protests in April 2000, but the fencing would be much higher and only police and people attending the meetings could pass.
He said waist-high bicycle fencing likely would be set up around the immediate area of the IMF and World Bank buildings as an additional precaution.
Protesters decried police plans as a waste of taxpayer money and a ploy to paint protesters as violent hooligans. "It's unfortunate that the police are trying to escalate antagonism," said Fred Azcarate, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national workers' rights group. "Any outside observer would think the police are preparing for war."
At previous protests of world economic bodies, police have employed various tactics. High fencing was first used against anti-globalization protesters in April in Quebec; police erected 10-foot fences that protesters dubbed the Wall of Shame. Although it was breached, Quebec police said, the fencing did its job.
Protests in Genoa, Italy, last month were marred by violence and by the shooting of one protester by a police officer. Officials have since said that some other incidents there involved police brutality.
Gainer said that police realize that only a small faction of protesters might resort of violence or vandalism.
"We would hope that the larger group . . . would . . . suppress that type of activity," Gainer said. He said that idea was presented to protest organizers and that they said they couldn't be responsible for everyone.
Verheyden-Hilliard said, "We have not seen protesters being violent at demonstrations in Washington, D.C."
Staff writers Mike Allen, Sewell Chan, Manny Fernandez and Avram Goldstein contributed to this report.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company