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Commentary
Tell the feds: No pay, no police
(Published January 24, 2005)

By BILL MOSLEY

It's not enough that we in the District of Columbia live under colonial rule it seems we also must pay for our own disenfranchisement.

As with most of the big events in the federal quarter of the city, the District's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) was drafted to send some 2,000 of D.C.'s finest to protect President Bush and his entourage from the threat of sign-wielding demonstrators so that he can make it safely to the White House for four more years of attacking our home rule.

In the past, the feds have generally reimbursed the District for its expenses in providing security for inaugurations and rallies on the mall, or at other national or international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank a recognition that the federal presence, not the District's residential quarters, draws the crowds. But this time, the Bush administration stiffed the District telling D.C. officials to draw the money from a fund for homeland security projects. Of over $17 million in costs to the District for hosting the inauguration, $12 million had to be drawn from a fund created to protect us from terrorists. At press time, Mayor Anthony Williams and a few members of Congress were still appealing for full reimbursement, to no avail.

Now let me get this straight: to protect President Bush from threats real or imagined, we have to reduce the funding available to protect the security of D.C. residents? It doesn't take the brains of even Tom Ridge to see the flaws in this idea.Even if the feds were to fully pay the costs to the District, one could ask: Why should D.C. police participate in such national events at all? The federal government has its own extensive network of police forces the Capitol Police, Park Police and Secret Service, among others. It's their job to protect the federal enclave; it's the MPD's to protect D.C. citizens. If the reason is to protect D.C. residents and businesses from out-of-town crowds, it would be better to have local police congregate in neighborhoods closest to the action not on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It also doesn't take a Ph.D. to conclude that 2,000 police (nearly two-thirds of the entire MPD force) lining the inaugural parade route meant 2,000 police not protecting D.C. neighborhoods on Jan. 20. Ramsey says that the added force came from having officers work overtime, not from taking them from normal patrol duty. Even if we believe this, requiring that much overtime raises concerns of a force overworked and overextended for an assignment of dubious benefit to D.C. residents. Meanwhile, in return for the co-optation of our local police, we endured a day of "martial law" (in the apt words of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro of Shaw) with central D.C. flooded by 13,000 armed troops and police and some 200 square blocks severely restricted to traffic or closed altogether.

Mayor Williams' complaints about the federal stiff-arm rang hollow, because Williams has been the most pliant and accommodating mayor the feds could hope for never once questioning the underlying unfairness of the demands placed by national events on local police. Indeed, Chief Ramsey dutifully leads his troops out of the neighborhoods and down to the mall every time a few pickets show up. Ramsey has fulfilled his role as federal protector with unseemly eagerness, as shown during an anti-globalization demonstration in September 2002 when the MPD arrested some 400 people in Pershing Park many of them not even involved in a demonstration, and none of them receiving a warning that they were about to be arrested.

I've got a better idea. The next time the feds ask the District to police a national demonstration or celebration, we should calculate the costs, and add an extra 10 percent to support local schools, libraries, or social programs and demand payment in advance. If they don't pay, we won't play.

I suppose Williams and Ramsey would quake at the thought of so provoking the federal government. Why, that would mean they would have to take a stand on behalf of home rule and the D.C. residents who pay their salaries. It could lead to a real debate within the District and on Capitol Hill about the meaning of home rule.

If we can't defend home rule on the grounds of our own safety and security, when will we defend it?

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Bill Mosley is a member of the Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C Coalition. Contact him at billmosley@starpower.net.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator