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Downtown shutdown

MPD to fence off 70-square-block area for World Bank-IMF annual meetings

(Published August 27, 2001)


Staff Writer

D.C. police are planning to fence off a 70-square-block area of downtown Washington for the upcoming annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

For four days, access to the area will be restricted to persons who can produce appropriate "documentation," according to police officials.

The plan, described Aug. 23 in a meeting with newspaper distributors, would disrupt business for thousands of D.C. workers whose offices and business establishments are located in the Northwest Washington area bounded by 14th Street on the east, 24th Street on the west, Eye Street on the north and Constitution Avenue on the south.

Police said they plan to restrict pedestrian and vehicular access to the area, which they expect to surround with a 9-foot-high fence, from midnight on Thursday, Sept. 27, to midnight on Monday, Oct. 1.

The elaborate security zone is being planned by Metropolitan Police officials in an effort to counter an expected large influx of demonstrators who are opposed to some of the lending practices of the World Bank and the IMF, which will hold their joint annual meetings Sept. 29-30 in downtown Washington.

IMF spokesman Bill Murray said about 12,000 persons are expected to attend the meetings. Police have given widely differing estimates of 40,000 to 100,000 protesters expected.

"Our motives are to ensure that business owners’ business property and persons are protected," said MPD communications director Kevin Morison.

Protests in Seattle, Quebec, Prague and Genoa, Italy, against the organizations’ policies have been marred by violence in recent years, although no major violence has occurred during local protests. D.C. authorities have been criticized for their actions related to the protests, including the alleged "herding" and subsequent arrest of more than 1,000 peaceful protesters in April 2000. In April of this year, 1,400 D.C. police officers assigned to man downtown barriers outnumbered about 150 peaceful protesters who turned out to demonstrate while the organizations met.

D.C. police have begun meeting with representatives of several business organizations – including the Downtown D.C. and Golden Triangle business improvement districts, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. – to seek cooperation. Morison said there currently are no plans to contact individual business owners within the restricted area to explain the plans.

"It’s going to be pretty hard for people in D.C. or within that area to not know what’s going on" in preparation for the protests, Morison said. He said business owners who have questions can call MPD’s Special Services Command at (202) 727-4295 for more information.

Newspaper distributors were asked during a meeting at MPD headquarters on Aug. 23 to remove all newspaper vending boxes from streets on the perimeter of the downtown area to be fenced to prevent them from being used as projectiles. The area to be cleared extends two blocks outside the restricted area.

Police said there will be no mail or overnight package deliveries permitted within the restricted area, and they are asking businesses to reschedule any large deliveries that would normally be made during the four restricted-access days.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who represents the downtown area, said he understands the need for security but also is concerned about the negative impact MPD’s plans will have on the sales of hundreds of downtown businesses.

"Clearly, the businesses are going to take a hit," Evans said, adding that he plans to meet with Mayor Anthony A. Williams to discuss a possible request for some form of federal impact aid to help businesses recoup their losses caused by the security restrictions.

"The question will become ‘Is there a method for reimbursing them for their losses?’ and that’s clearly something the District of Columbia can’t afford," Evans said.

The Bush administration has announced it will cover about $16 million of MPD’s projected $30 million costs associated with security for the weekend. Morison declined to provide a cost estimate for fencing the 70-square-block section of downtown.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator