BETWEEN THE LINES: IMF-World Bank Protesters Planning Class Action Lawsuit

During a week of actions in mid-April opposing the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington D.C. more than 1,300 activists and innocent bystanders were arrested by police.

Although many demonstrators came to Washington willing to risk arrest for participation in non-violent civil disobedience, over 600 were detained by police on April 15th while conducting a peaceful protest march. Even before activists took to the streets, police and fire officials had closed down the protest organizer's headquarters on the pretext of fire code violations, drawing condemnation as a pre-emptive strike in violation of constitutionally guaranteed free speech rights. During a blockade of the IMF/World Bank annual spring meeting police used tear gas, pepper spray and wielded yard-long nightsticks against demonstrators, causing serious injury to some.

While in custody, approximately 150 demonstrators practiced "jail solidarity" whereby prisoners withheld their names and refused cooperation with authorities. After several days this tactic proved successful when most detainees were released with reduced charges of "jay walking" and a nominal $5 fine. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Mark Goldstone, an attorney with the National Lawyers' Guild and co-legal coordinator with the Mobilization for Global Justice, who examines the constitutionality of police mass arrests and pre-emptive strikes against demonstrators.

Mark Goldstone: As everybody I think knows, the demonstration was planned to shut down the IMF and World Bank meetings which were scheduled for Sunday, April 16 and Monday, April 17. The police feared a repeat of the so-called violence that took place in Seattle, which from the demonstrators' standpoint was largely police-led violence and a police riot.

The police made a number of pre-emptive strikes against the demonstrators and many people were arrested. More people were arrested before April 16 than were arrested either April 16 or subsequent (to the actual days of the planned protests).

One particularly heinous incident occurred when the police, along with the fire chief claimed that there was a fire code violation in a convergence space at Florida and 14th Avenue. That was the headquarters space of the protesters where they had been gathering for about a week or so before the demonstration. The interesting and ironic thing about the so-called fire code violations was it disrupted the ability of the demonstrators to organize, number one, which is true -- but also disrupted the ability of the activists to get nonviolence training, and their medical supplies and get access to their medical supplies and their First Amendment materials, meaning leaflets and things that were to be handed out on the streets.

So what the police did by raiding the convergence space and closing it down the day before the actual demonstration actions on trumped up charges that there was a fire code violation is they forced about 1,000 people into the streets. What we termed "A16" actually occurred on "A15" when we had about a thousand people kicked out of their convergence space in this ridiculous pretextual raid and people had nowhere to go, so they went to the streets and many of them got arrested.

On April 15, the police basically cordoned off two blocks of downtown D.C., and anyone who was captured in that zone was basically placed under arrest. Six hundred people were arrested on Saturday, and ironically enough they were protesting against what they call the prison industrial complex and the fact that jailers and courts are these days seeking to arrest people first and throw them in prison, rather than rehabilitate people or to give them any kind of drug or alcohol treatment. That was what they were protesting against.

It was this group of 600 that ended up getting arrested. We had shoppers, we had tourists visiting from other countries. We had a Washington Post photographer that was swept up in this police dragnet, when they basically entrapped everyone in two square blocks and arrested them.

Once they were arrested, they were treated like common dogs and denied food, denied water, denied access to their lawyers and were given a lot of misinformation and disinformation about what their charges were and told that their lawyers did not want to see them.They were held overnight on police buses, in many cases they were shackled and handcuffed. It was a very atrocious situation with respect to a bunch of people who had no intention of even getting arrested.

Between The Lines: What will your team of attorneys do now to challenge what the D.C. police department did during the protest?

Mark Goldstone: First we're going to win all the criminal cases that are left, and then once we win all those criminal cases we're going to start filing civil lawsuits. It's going to be very interesting to watch the police defend their conduct because a lot of people I've spoken to don't feel the police conduct -- again, specifically with respect to shutting down the convergence space, which was the activist training headquarters --- was at all justified nor was the Saturday night arrest of 600 persons. So we think that we'll win the criminal cases and then we'll begin collecting affidavits and statements and then attack them civilly.

Between The Lines: Is a class action lawsuit in the works? Can you constrain the D.C. police from doing something similar in the future?

Mark Goldstone: We sure hope to.

Between The Lines: What would be the grounds on which you would file a lawsuit?

Mark Goldstone: Nominally, for a violation of First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, First Amendment right of freedom of speech, which is clearly going to be the basis for the convergence center closure which was completely trumped up.

In terms of the Saturday night seizure of 600 persons on the street, that would also be a violation of the First Amendment. Once people got into custody, they were deprived of food, water, phone calls, and lied to, manipulated and in some cases beaten. Those cases would rest on the the Sixth Amendment violation of access to counsel, as well as Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment violations.

Contact the National Lawyers' Guild at (202) 331-1639 or visit the Mobilization for Global Justice's Web site at http://www.a16.org.

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