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Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 11/30/11

Police handle D.C. protests well

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Policing the Police

Chris Gordon

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The Occupy phenomenon continues across the nation.

Whatever you think of the protest goals, many politicians and especially police departments have not distinguished themselves in handling the demonstrators.

Maybe the worst example is that officer at the University of California at Davis who now is a YouTube sensation because of his brutish blasts of pepper spray at unresisting protesters. That and other heavy-handed reactions around the country have provoked and strengthened the protesters rather than kept the peace.

Be thankful that the nation’s capital has been an exception.

Except for a few, mostly minor incidents, the D.C. police and the U.S. Park Police have shown restraint and tactical sophistication.

“Whatever they’ve been doing, you have to give them credit,” Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Starrels said the recent march through Georgetown to Key Bridge at rush hour could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. Police consulted the marchers, mapped out the streets to be used and made it clear to those marching that blocking the bridge even for a moment would not be tolerated.

Both Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier have declared that the city’s laws will be enforced. Those declarations came after a scuffle and traffic incident at the city’s convention center.

Park Service officers have monitored the occupied sites at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, reminding protesters that their encampments are illegal. The National Park Service is concerned about safety and sanitation and destruction of the parks themselves. But so far, there’s been no use of force, even though protesters on Freedom Plaza are building more permanent structures with concrete and two-by-fours.

The federal authorities and the city leaders, including members of the D.C. Council, have said that this city respects the right of protest. It wasn’t always so.

In the past, the District has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegally rounding up protesters. And earlier this year, the Park Service was hugely embarrassed when officers roughly arrested some young people who -- on a lark -- danced at the Jefferson Memorial. As a result of those arrests, several hundred more protesters showed up, essentially to jeer at the police.

• Crime on Connecticut.

Even one murder anywhere is one murder too many. But more than a few eyebrows have been raised by recent violent events -- a drive-by shooting in Georgetown on Halloween and last weekend’s deadly fight outside a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue just south of Dupont Circle.

Neither neighborhood is known for violent crime.

The shooting on Connecticut has raised issues about restaurants that turn into essentially private nightclubs in the wee hours of the morning.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans is considering emergency legislation to require such establishments to pay for uniformed city police to patrol the immediate area.

One thing is certain: The city doesn’t want its downtown core known as a place of clubs and crime. (Vincent Gray reacts to the Dupont violence.)

• Ethics latest.

Do you think government is run by a bunch of crooks? That’s a popular view of those who slam all manner of local, state and federal governments.

Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a proposed ethics bill for the city. The deadline to testify passed, but you may still be able to submit written testimony for a few more days. Email Bowser’s staff at jgluckman@dccouncil.us.

Bowser has promised a preliminary vote on the bill before January. The ethics hearing was set as expectations rise for U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen. The U.S. attorney is investigating possible illegal conduct by two elected officials and their campaign organizations -- Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown. A third investigation by federal authorities is looking into the alleged criminal misuse or theft of $300,000 in city funds by Ward 5 Council member Harry “Tommy” Thomas.

All three officials have said they’ve done nothing illegal.

• Clubbing AIDS.

A nightclub venue may be a little unusual for 13-year-olds, but city officials and private organizations are trying to reach everyone regarding the high HIV/AIDS rate in Washington.

On Friday, the second annual “Golden Ticket: Party for Prevention” will be held at the K Street Lounge downtown. The lounge normally hosts partying adults and corporate events, but Friday’s free gathering -- part of a week of activities in conjunction with World AIDS Day -- is for young people ages 13 to 24. It’s meant to teach them about HIV/AIDS prevention. (It’s called “Golden Ticket” because that’s the nickname of the Trojan Magnum condoms that are wrapped in shiny gold foil.)

The party from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is sponsored by Metro TeenAIDS, Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), The Women’s Collective, Children’s National Medical Center, Sasha Bruce and Promising Futures.

Door prizes include an iPad2.

Asked why an essentially teen event is being held at a 21-and-over nightclub, supporters noted that the event ends at 8 p.m. One person involved said that if the event is “not fun and cool, it won’t serve its intended purpose. It’s about saving lives.”

• A final word.

Did you even see or feel Thanksgiving as it was swallowed up in all the pre-Christmas frenzy? One person on Twitter summed it up nicely on Monday: “Rant! First Xmas card arrived, neighbors put up lights, and stores opened on Thurs. No one has any respect for Thanksgiving anymore.”

Rant, indeed. But unfortunately ranting against it is like a dog howling at the moon.

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