An Uncivil War

Anarchists and Cops Square Off in Washington’s IMF Slugfest

Fearing the worst, the Bush administration said in late August that it will reimburse the city for up to $16 million of a projected $29 million in costs for providing security for the meetings. Up to $11 million will go to transport, house, feed, and pay for more than 3000 out-of-town cops, who'll bolster the District's 3600-member force. Another $4.9 million will pay for riot gear, medical supplies, and operating equipment, including protective suits and helmets, for about 2000 police.

Not every cop thinks the fence is such a great deal. "If you can make the fence a target so police aren't the target, or private property is not the target, or individuals are not the target, then this fence would have served its purpose," Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation and former head of the Newark police department, told The Washington Post recently. He notes people anxious to break through the fence might develop "countertactics," which he wouldn't discuss in detail for fear of giving demonstrators a heads-up. "It's a problem if it's toppled over on police officers, used in a way to undermine police officers," he said. "The biggest problem for the police is that tactics might be developed where the fence could be used against them."

Already, the police are having to take steps to protect the fence itself. By closing George Washington University, whose campus abuts the fence, they've set up a no-man's-land between the fence and the expected demonstrations. If the past is any guide, the D.C. cops will try setting up checkpoints and skirmish lines in front of the fence. This will force the crowds back into the K Street corridor, home to the city's well-heeled lawyers and lobbyists who crisscross the area attending meetings and eating lunch at fancy restaurants.

Thick Blue Line: "State power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent."
photo: Mario Tama/NEWSMAKERS
Thick Blue Line: "State power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent."

What's more, the World Bank owns six buildings, including its new $317 million headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue—outside the fence—which must be defended.

The cops have exaggerated the expected size of the demo to 100,000, which may have helped them get money out of Congress. The actual size of the demonstration, according to organizers, will probably be upwards of 30,000 but less than 50,000. Many of the demonstrators will not be the terrorist kids the cops rail against, but peaceable older members of labor unions brought into town by the AFL-CIO to march around the Ellipse and up to the IMF site following a delicately crafted plan that is almost certain to win them a demonstration permit. If the cops start attacking these people, they'll be in for a debacle.

All the money and power the cops now hold could be outdone by a smart, swift, impromptu demonstration on the streets. Protesters can take their marching orders from a tactical guide working its way around the Web. "The best defense is chaos," reads the message from London. "They cannot cope with constantly changing situations. Keep moving, utilize mad props, change your appearance, weave in and out of the crowd."

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