Mayor, Council Members Arrested in Budget Protest

Mayor Vincent Gray, members of the D.C. Council and District residents were arrested Monday evening at a protest of the budget deal reached Friday night to avoid a federal government shutdown.

About 150 D.C. voting rights supporters joined city leaders outside the Hart Senate Office Building to express outrage over the deal, Tom Sherwood reported. The demonstrators had a permit to march on the sidewalk, but the demonstration became a noisy protest that spilled on to Constitution Avenue.

Gray and his constituents emerged from custody early Tuesday morning and discussed their experience.

"We just spent the last seven hours incarcerated for, to me, could be considered one of the most worthy causes we could be incarcerated for," Gray said. "That is fighting for the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia."

Gray said he needed to make a statement to federal officials.

"What has happened in this budget process and what has happened repeatedly to the District of Columbia is just completely unacceptable," Gray said. "It's time for the people of the District of Columbia to stand up and let this nation know that we want to be first-class citizens like everybody else."

When U.S. Capitol Police closed the street to traffic at about 5:30 p.m., protesters sat down on Constitution Avenue, Sherwood reported. Forty-one people were arrested, including Gray, Council Chair Kwame Brown, and council members Michael Brown, Muriel Bowser, Yvette Alexander, Sekou Biddle and Tommy Wells. Police approached them one by one and told them they'd be arrested if they didn't get off the street, and one by one, the protesters stood and were handcuffed.

The crowd roared when Gray was cuffed.

Washington was used as a pawn in last week's budget bargaining, with new restrictions part of the price of a deal, city leaders said. Under the budget agreement reached Friday, the details of which are still uncertain, the city will likely be unable to spend city dollars on abortions for low income women.

Democrats succeeded last week in retaining funding for programs like Planned Parenthood that provide abortions but failed to eliminate a rider barring D.C. from using local tax money to pay for abortion services.

"Why should women in the District of Columbia be subjected to a set of rules that no other woman is subjected to?" Gray said at the rally Monday.

D.C. may also be banned from spending city money on needle exchange programs believed vital to curbing the spread of HIV in the city, where the disease is considered an epidemic. Also back, a school voucher program favored by Republicans.

“If we want a school voucher program, we should choose it ourselves,” Gray said.

City leaders are particularly upset with President Barack Obama, who won 93 percent of the D.C. vote but surrendered the city's autonomy to get the budget passed.

Had a budget deal not been reached last week, D.C. would have suffered unlike other jurisdictions because it would not have been allowed to use locally collected funds, meaning no paychecks for workers deemed essential, like and firefighters and police, and disruptions of service like street sanitation and garbage collection.

Last week, Gray expressed his disappointment that Congress didn't pass Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's bill allowing D.C. to spend locally collected funds without an appropriation from Congress -- another hit to autonomy.

“This is an absolute travesty," Gray said Monday. "D.C. deserves to be free. All we want to do is spend our own money.”

The 41 arrested were expected to be cited and released from custody Monday night.

Gray is the first D.C. mayor to be arrested since former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly was arrested during a similar protest in the early 1990s.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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