Published on Saturday, April 22, 2000 in the Washington Post
Last World Bank-IMF Protesters Leave DC Jails With A $5 Jaywalking Fine
by David Montgomery
After refusing opportunities for release from the D.C. jail since Tuesday, about 150 World Bank-IMF protesters struck a deal yesterday approved by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, knocking their charges down to jaywalking and a fine of $5.
One demonstrator was freed about 8 p.m., but the others were still being processed for release late last night as jubilant supporters, including some who had camped out in the jail parking lot, waited outside. Everyone cheered as a supporter read a statement from the jailed group that was scrawled on a scrap of cardboard:
"Our time of incarceration has been a minimal inconvenience in comparison to the impact of institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization."
The first to leave the jail was Dan Lichtenstein, 18, a high school student from Charlottesville. "Everyone's fine, everyone's healthy," he said upon emerging to cheers in jail garb that included orange shoes.
Lichtenstein said that after the protesters were arrested, marshals tried to frighten them with predictions that they might be attacked by other inmates. However, he said, conditions turned out not to be so bad, with many of the inmates even showing support.
He had apparently been released first because his processing work had started earlier. His father had been trying to arrange his release on bond before the deal was brokered. Nelson Lichtenstein said he respected his son's courage for spending the time in jail, but "I also wanted him to go back to school. I'm a parent."
The remaining protesters were expected to be released by early morning, a jail official said.
This group was the last to remain incarcerated, after nearly 1,300 demonstrators and some bystanders were arrested during a week of protests against global capitalism.
Waiting in the rain, Bart and Ellie Burkhalter, of Potomac, said they had been "proud and worried" when they learned their 20-year-old daughter was arrested. But they supported their daughter's cause. Her father said, "It's time to bring this out more in the public."
Most of the 1,300 arrested either paid their fines or requested a trial, and they were released. The last group challenged the District's court and jail system by practicing a tactic they called jail solidarity. They refused to give their names or accept release, in order to strike a group deal. The jail was forced to surpass its court-imposed population cap, and Superior Court judges shook their heads in frustrated amazement at people who didn't want their freedom.
The strategy, according to volunteer lawyers for the group, was to extract the best plea deal and to score one last political point: that the people, united, can force the criminal justice system to bend their way.
"They're happy that they got their deal," said Michael Madden, a Washington attorney who helped represent the group. "They're happy that they made their point."
As part of the arrangement negotiated with the Corporation Counsel's office, members of the group finally had to give their names. But since the infraction was now effectively a traffic ticket, their names wouldn't be attached to a criminal record, said Jennifer Blomstrom, a Mount Rainier attorney with the Midnight Special Law Collective.
The original charge was the misdemeanor of crossing a police line, with a maximum penalty of $300. Most of those scheduled for release had spent at least four days in jail. Blomstrom contrasted the protesters' fate with that of 180 demonstrators arrested outside the Supreme Court in February in a protest of the death penalty; they did not practice solidarity and still face trials.
The U.S. attorney's office rejected the protesters' demand that the same deal apply to roughly 20 protesters charged with felonies or serious misdemeanors, including four cases of alleged assault on a police officer and one case of alleged possession of a molotov cocktail. However, the jaywalking deal will apply retroactively to about 250 other protesters who were released intending to return for trial.
Around the courthouse, there was grumbling that the protesters were being granted special treatment not afforded the rest of the population of the D.C. jail. Odie Washington, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, disagreed with those claims. "They are receiving no different treatment than the general population," he said.
Protesters who communicated with those outside the jail sent word that conditions inside were generally good, with at least one exception. A dozen demonstrators singled out for a bond review hearing Thursday did not want to go, and some were forcibly dragged out of the jail and placed on the bus.
A supporter outside during the incident was knocked violently to the ground by a U.S. marshal for walking in front of the transport bus. She was taken by ambulance across the parking lot to D.C. General, where she was treated for whiplash, back trauma and fitted with a neck brace, according to witnesses and the victim.
Protesters contrasted the jail conditions with what they described as harsh treatment by some U.S. Marshals, who had custody of the protesters after their arrests and before they entered the jail.
Brock Bourassa, 21, a student at the University of Maryland who was released against his will Tuesday morning, said he witnessed a marshal slam a minor against the wall in the basement of Superior Court on Tuesday when he refused to give his age. Marshals twisted his arms behind his back until he said he was 17, Bourassa said.
A man standing next to Bourassa in the same place looked to the side after marshals had ordered them to look at the wall. A marshal reached through the holding pen bars and pulled the man's head hard against the bars and said, "We've got a problem child," Bourassa said.
Jennie Sheeks, 22, a student at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., said that when she forced marshals to carry her off a transport bus Monday, they dragged her out to a concrete wall and slammed her face against it. She pointed to her still-swollen and red right cheek, which she said was proof. "Then I started crying and they were fine to me," said Sheeks, who was released Tuesday.
Drew Wade, spokesman for the U.S. Marshal's service, said the service has received no complaints of any mistreatment of the protesters by marshals. "We can't follow up on something if we haven't received a complaint," he said.
Lawyers for the protesters could not confirm more extreme allegations circulating in messages on the Internet. They said they are reviewing a number of the claims for possible lawsuits.
Staff writer Phuong Ly contributed to this report.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company