> Police Crack Down on IMF/World Bank Activists
> Jason Vest, http://SpeakOut.com (via AlterNet)
> WASHINGTON -- It was around 8 o'clock last Thursday evening when the
> buzzer rang in activist Adam Eidinger's apartment. Thinking that some of
> his fellow activists had arrived a bit early for a postering party, Eidinger
> buzzed the door open and stepped out into the hall.
> As one of the organizers of protests against the World Bank and
> International Monetary Fund scheduled for April 16, Eidinger is used to
> people dropping by in the evenings.
> But upon glimpsing the police badges hanging around the necks of his
> two visitors, Eidinger quickly realized they weren't looking for a bucket of
> adhesive wheat paste and reams of posters that read "Mobilization for
> Global Justice."
> Instead, the visit was part of an effort by Washington's Metropolitan Police
> Department to intimidate protest organizers -- even though District of
> Columbia municipal code makes it clear that their activities aren't
> According to Eidinger, the detectives said that "they were monitoring our
> e-mails," had read one about a "poster night" at his house, and wanted to
> know "what that was all about."
> "Since we've been doing a lot of organizing on the net, many of our e-mail
> lists are public," said Eidinger, whose day job is doing public relations
> work for Rabinowitz Communications.
> "We know the police are looking at our e-mails, which isn't surprising,
> since they've been coming to meetings since day one."
> But, Eidinger adds, he was taken aback by what one of the officers,
> Detective Neil Trugman of the Gang Intelligence Unit, told him, that the
> postering activities of his group were illegal and must cease immediately,
> and any further activity would likely be cause for arrest.
> "He said, 'I was against the war in Vietnam, I protested, we don't want to
> cause any problems for you, but you can't hang up posters, because it's a
> violation of the law,'" Eidinger says.
> The discussion went on for about a half-hour, and inevitably veered toward
> police concerns about violence.
> "I told them if I knew of any violent people coming to town, if I knew of
> anyone coming here to trash anything, I would tell them, because I don't
> want that," Eidinger recalled.
> "I think I calmed them down, yet they insisted that hanging posters was
> illegal, and that if anyone was caught, they would be arrested and charged
> with destruction of public property, and that they were looking out for us
> on the street."
> Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch, one of the organizers of Seattle's
> anti-World Trade Organization protests last November, was appalled.
> "There seems to be an undue amount of zeal in stifling debate as
> compared to focusing on the substance of World Bank/IMF policies,
> which need to change," Wallach said. "If the police have all this spare
> time to crack down on people exercising their First Amendment rights,
> maybe they ought to check into corporate criminality of the WTO and IMF,
> What the Law Says
> According to Fritz Mulhauser, legal program administrator of the American
> Civil Liberties Union's National Capital Area chapter, the police
> explanation was at best a stretch. Although commercial posters on
> lampposts are illegal, Section 108 of Title 24 of DC's municipal regulations
> protects political postering, with certain caveats.
> "They can't be up for more than sixty days, they have to have on them a date
> when put up, they should be put securely to the lamppost to avoid being torn
> or disengaged by weather, and may not be fastened by adhesives that prohibit
> complete removal, and you can't put up more than three copies within one
> block," Mulhauser explained.
> Detective Trugman wouldn't comment on the matter without permission from
> D.C. police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile, who declined to meet our deadline
> request for a conversation.
> Activists and others are supposed to provide copies of the posters, along
> with a name, address and phone number, to the mayor's office. But it doesn't
> take but a short walk through some DC neighborhoods to discover that this
> regulation isn't the police department's -- or anyone else's -- highest
> priority. Multiple posters of a commercial bent can be found all over town.
> "I've never heard of anything like this before," said Sam Smith, a lifelong
> DC resident and veteran activist on causes ranging from the Vietnam War to
> the environment and D.C. statehood. "The only times political posters have
> been an issue in DC is after campaigns, when all the anal compulsives want
> the politicians to take posters down as quickly as possible."
> Eidinger's case is not entirely unprecedented, however. In 1998, when a
> number of DC residents mounted a campaign to stop the building of a
> convention center, their leader, Debbie Hanrahan, received scores of tickets
> from the D.C. Department of Public Works for hanging anti-convention center
> posters. After brandishing Title 24, Section 108, Jim Drew, a longtime
> Washington attorney, got the city to withdraw the tickets. But the incident
> was, he says, chilling.
> "I got a sense this was being directed by a higher authority -- my strong
> assumption was that the individual enforcement officer wasn't acting on his
> own, in the same way I don't think the individual police officers in this
> case decided to do that," he says.
> "These regulations are extremely selectively enforced. They're only enforced
> when they're in opposition to a huge economic force, like the convention
> center or the World Bank. You don't have them enforced for anything else --
> the circus, a rock concert, a yard sale."
> What Price Postering?
> The meeting with the cops left Eidinger shaky. When his postering crew
> arrived Thursday night, "I explained that we'd been told we'd be arrested,
> and I was really spooked.
> "Even though I think I'm doing the right thing, I really don't want to get
> arrested and fight this out in court," says Eidinger, whose worry was
> understandable. Last year, he was arrested for manipulating a Bill
> Clinton head puppet at an anti-NATO bombing protest.
> "As I was explaining this [situation], we noticed a police officer in his
> car outside my house. People were thinking, 'Are we going to walk out
> of here and get arrested?'"
> "After about 20 minutes of this, we started yelling at the cop, and
> eventually he drove off, but I felt like I was in China, or somewhere
> they don't protect freedom of speech."
> While Eidinger and a handful of others hung back, over a dozen others
> went forth and postered -- with no interference from the police.
> A former associate editor on US News & World Report's business and
> investigative staffs and former Village Voice writer, Jason Vest is a
> national correspondent for Speakout.com and In These Times. He is
> also a Project Censored 2000 award-winner.
> AlterNet is a project of Independent Media Institute