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Protesters faced 150 National Guard soldiers

(Published April 24, 2000)


Staff Writer

When unarmed protesters faced off with law enforcement officers in the streets of their nation’s capital April 17, separated by police barricades, they were facing soldiers under military command at five downtown intersections.

While the specter of calling out the National Guard might create some anxiety and be considered major news in many other parts of the country, particularly with the 30th anniversary of the Kent State killings approaching on May 4, little mention was made by the local news media of the D.C. National Guard’s role in the massive law enforcement operation that was mustered to deal with the protests against the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"All of the Guard was essentially on duty," said Lt. Col. Phyllis Phipps-Barnes, public affairs officer for the D.C. National Guard. While that means 1,600 Army Guard and 1,550 Air Guard personnel, Phipps-Barnes said only 150 Army Guard soldiers – mostly military police – were actually sent out on the streets in riot gear to face protesters.

"They were wearing BDUs – battle dress uniforms, they look like trees," she said wryly. "All had riot gear and they had batons, but they were not armed (with firearms)."

Phipps-Barnes said the soldiers were deployed to help Metropolitan Police Department officers hold police barricades at five intersections in Northwest Washington – 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, 20th and E streets, 19th and E, 19th and G, and 17th Street and New York Avenue.

The troops were sworn in as D.C. special police officers on April 16, which gave them arrest powers, but they remained under the military command of Lt. Col. William M. Bailey Jr. while they were on the streets, the Guard spokeswoman said.

"We have never exercised arrest powers," Bailey said, even though D.C. Guard members are routinely sworn in as special police whenever they are activated to help MPD. Bailey said the status as special police officers "gives them jurisdiction to go out and assist D.C. Metropolitan Police in case something happens – it gives them the legal authority to be there."

Because the D.C. National Guard is the only National Guard unit among 54 (one for each of the 50 states, one in each of three U.S. territories, and the D.C. unit) that is not commanded by a governor, the chain of command for mobilizing the D.C. National Guard is a bit complex.

"The mayor requests our support and (Maj. Gen. Warren L. Freeman, commander of the D.C. Guard) goes to the Secretary of the Army.…We are the only (Guard) entity that does not have a governor, so consequently, we belong to the President and he has delegated that authority down to the Secretary of the Army," Phipps-Barnes said.

The D.C. Guard has "a very close relationship with the D.C. police and the D.C. EMA (Emergency Management Agency)," Phipps-Barnes said, and routinely works with the police on anti-drug light patrols throughout the city.

"We have been attending (planning) meetings for the past month with MPD and EMA," she said, adding that the formal request to activate the Guard was received the week before the IMF/World Bank spring meeting and planned protests. "We were on duty from the 15th through the 17th."

D.C. Guard soldiers were housed overnight April 15 at Francis Junior High School, 2425 N St. NW, before moving to the World Trade Building at 19th and G streets NW as their mobilization headquarters.

In addition to sending soldiers into the streets to face protesters, Phipps-Barnes said the Guard loaned tents and light equipment to the city for use at MPD’s Blue Plains training facility in Southwest to help process some of the approximately 1,300 persons who were arrested and charged with a variety of mostly non-violent misdemeanors during the week of protests.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator