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Puppets vs. Police: IMF Protests Get Off to an Uneasy Start

by John Tarleton
April 9, 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The local police made an aggressive show of force Saturday during the kick-off demonstration for the A16 Mobilization for Global Justice.

A hundred or so protesters and their giant puppets had barely left their headquarters at 1328 Florida Ave. at midday when the police descended upon them. A police officer in an unmarked red Ford Crown Victoria (License plate # AB 4090) barked at the protesters to get on the sidewalk. Police motorcycles quickly arrived at the corner of Florida and 14th St. NW. There was singing and drumming and a couple of minutes of confusion before the protesters moved onto the sidewalk and then headed up 14th St.

It was a warm, sunny day and the puppets were bobbing in a strong northeasterly wind. The destination: Malcolm X Park where a free concert was going to be staged. The demonstrators, who were overwhelmingly white, wanted to use the march to reach out to the predominantly African-American neighborhood. One local came up and asked if this demonstration was about Elian Gonzalez.

"That Cuban boy should be with his father," he said.

The procession continued up 14th St. for several blocks before running into a wall of police motorcycles. The police wanted to reroute the march down an empty side street. The protesters sought to continue marching on the side of a major thoroughfare. There was a moment of tense confrontation

A familiar song ("We will flood the streets with justice/We won't turn around") filled the air as neighborhood families watched passively from balconies overhead. The marchers wanted to follow Columbia to 18th St. before looping back to the park. The police weren't budging.

"You don't have a permit," said Officer J.L. Sullivan.

"But we're on the sidewalk like you asked us," said one of the organizers, a young woman with dyed-red hair.

"You're messing up traffic!" Sullivan said. "That's the important thing."

They locked eyes and then Sullivan made a proposal. The march would go down Columbia, turn up 16th and then empty into the park. Police rigidity gave way, for a moment, to compromise. The march continued, shorter than planned but still highly visible.

A couple of minutes later, Molly Bolt became the first (though probably not the last) A16 protester to be victimized by police brutality.

Bolt, a member of the Seattle Lesbian Avengers, was walking just off the curb passing out leaflets to interested passersby. There was a narrow corridor between the curb and oncoming traffic. And, Officer F. Strother (badge #3262) managed to guide his motorcycle down that corridor and strike Bolt from behind, running over the back of her left heal and ankle.

"It was a shock," Bolt said. "He hit me full force."

By the time marchers arrived at Malcolm X Park, there were 22 police motorcycles on hand. Many of the police officers, like Strother, appeared tense and angry as if they had been programmed.

At first glance, it appears that the lesson the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has drawn from the "Battle of Seattle" is to be more aggressive and to respond with overwhelming force to even the most minimal threat. Despite wearing black vegan platform boots, Bolt's heel and ankle were still gimpy an hour later.

"Shit yea, it hurts," she said. "I also think he was trying to scare me."

I asked her if she was going to give up.

"Shit No!" She said. "I saw a lot worse in Seattle."