By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But by 4 in the afternoon, a neighbor has called the police and about 20 squatters have barricaded themselves inside. Within the hour, dozens of cops have arrived. A tense standoff ensues, as about 100 supporters gather on the street outside and the squatters take to the roof, where they hang banners reading “FREE THE LAND” and join the crowd in chants of “No housing, no peace!” All but eight of the squatters soon leave the building voluntarily. Police don riot gear and use their batons to push the crowd — now furiously screaming, “Stop the evictions!” — off the block. But tensions between police and protesters are deflected when an African-American community resident begins to berate the nearly all-white crowd: “It ain’t the best community in the world, but it was peaceful till you got here!” An hour later, all eight remaining squatters have been dragged from the roof and booked.
Things are even hotter across town, where approximately 600 protesters taking part in a nonviolent rally in support of death-row activist Mumia Abu-Jamal are carted away en masse in school buses and charged with parading without a permit. Meanwhile, Metro stops belch out dozens of newly arrived activists every few minutes, Foggy Bottom storekeepers board up their windows in preparation for Sunday, and sirens continue to wail.
Sunday, April 16
The big day, A 16 in activist lingo, begins for many well before dawn. Devin Asch, shirtless in the heat of the midday sun, recalls that “People were starting to meet up at 4,” hoping to block the streets to prevent delegates from getting through to the World Bank meetings. “It was really organized.” Protesters built blockades, he says, with fencing and lumber taken from a nearby construction site. And as early as 5:30, when police were loading delegates onto buses, activists lay down in front of them and linked arms, preventing the buses from leaving. “I’m fucking impressed,” says Asch.
Not everything goes so smoothly. At about 6:30, U.S. Park Police try to break lines of peaceful protesters by ramming through on motorcycles. They’re unsuccessful, and no one is seriously injured. Two hours later, police pepper-spray a crowd trying to push through the barricades that wall off the World Bank building. A few minutes later, I run into the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc heading down K Street. A few hundred strong, garbed almost entirely in black — most in black T-shirts or sweatshirts with the hoods pulled over black ski masks, or with black bandannas pulled over their faces. For short, they go by Black Bloc. They march, waving anarchist flags, spirits high, beating drums made from overturned buckets or plastic water jugs and shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” To everyone’s surprise, as we approach intersections blocked by patrol cars, police simply drive off and cede us the street. Gaining courage, the crowd turns a corner and the cry goes up: “We’re taking this intersection!” Everyone breaks into a run and charges, but police again spoil the fun by backing off.
After a few brief face-offs, the inevitable encounter comes at about 10, when protesters, pushing in front of them a temporary chainlink fence they’ve picked up along the way, charge a couple of dozen cops on motorcycles. The cops back off, then wheel around and ram the fence, discharging pepper spray from small cannons into the crowd. The fence is dropped, and, stunned from the pepper spray, people run back down the block and into a small park, with riot police, now on foot, in pursuit. One man falls and is mobbed by cops swinging their batons. The cry goes up: ä “They’re beating him,” and police retreat as protesters rush them to retrieve their fallen friend. Cops and protesters both regroup. Then cops don gas masks and fire tear-gas canisters into the crowd. Some are thrown back at them, as are a few bottles, but the tear gas effectively disperses the protesters. Roadrunner Krazykatovitch, backpack full of eyewash and first-aid supplies in tow, is working the crowd as a medic. He’s treated three people hurt by the gas. “I didn’t treat any anarchists, though,” he says, disappointed — all three were journalists.
A block away, 17-year-old Gabby Silverman, from Brooklyn, is still recovering from baton blows, but is undaunted. “For us to be yelling ‘Whose streets? Our streets’ and then be running away,” she says, “I just don’t see the logic. I wasn’t going to run away. I wasn’t going to do anything violent, but I wasn’t gonna let them turn me away.” For her courage, Silverman was run down by motorcycles, then thrown to the ground and hit with batons until her friends rescued her, but she doesn’t want to talk about her bruises. “Don’t portray us as a bunch of crazed thugs who just want to beat up some cops,” she asks of me. “That’s not what we’re here for.”
Two hours later, the sun has come out and the mood is fully carnivalesque. Each intersection is still blocked with human chains of protesters, but for the most part, people have broken up into small groups. Folks are milling about the streets, dancing and drumming, soaking tired feet in a nearby fountain. The peace doesn’t last long. Some anarchists have commandeered a wheeled dumpster. Black Bloc gathers, and the dumpster is pushed to the corner of 19th and I, just a block from the World Bank building. As protesters on the sidelines yell, “No violence,” they charge, rolling the dumpster into the police barricade. A few blasts of pepper spray back them off briefly. When they return, rolling an overturned trash can, another protester runs out and stops it, screaming again, “No violence!” He’s pushed aside by a black-masked anarchist who yells, gesturing at the line of riot cops, “What the fuck do you think that is?”