Lockdown in DC: Unprecedented Security For Bush Inauguration and Protests

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Washington DC is in a state of lockdown for the most heavily guarded presidential inauguration in history. Along with the customary inauguration address and parade, a number of protests are being planned in Washington and around the country. We speak with Shahid Buttar, a member of the Guerilla Poetry Insurgency affinity group for the anti-inauguration protests and Mark Goldstone, of the Demonstration Support Committee for the National Lawyers Guild. [includes rush transcript]

Washington DC is in a state of lockdown amid unprecedented levels of security. Fences, barriers and roadblocks have been erected across the city and 7,000 law enforcement agents from more than 100 federal, state and local agencies are on patrol. Heavily armed Coast Guard boats will patrol the Potomac River. Snipers have taken up positions on rooftops, bomb-sniffing dogs are on patrol and so-called Patriot anti-missile batteries are stationed near the Capitol.

The entire area around Capitol Hill and the White House has been cordoned off, and more than 100 streets will be off-limits to traffic with the inauguration designated a national special-security event.

Flight restrictions over Washington for private aircraft have been expanded, and pilots are being warned that they risk being shot down if they stray into restricted areas and don’t respond to warnings.

The so-called nerve center for the most heavily guarded presidential inauguration in history is in a futuristic command post in Northern Virginia. Inside a gleaming steel-and-marble complex, the Secret Service and 50 federal, state and local agencies will monitor action in the sky, on the ground and in the subway system. Giant plasma screens will beam in live video from helicopters and cameras at the U.S. Capitol, along the parade route and at other areas. Officials will be able to track fighter jets patrolling the skies and call up three-dimensional maps of downtown.

Washington officials are upset that the federal government has told them to use homeland security grants to pay costs associated with the inauguration. Mayor Anthony Williams estimated the inauguration would cost the city over $17 million.

More than half a million people are expected to attend the ceremony today and along with the customary inauguration address and parade, a number of protests are being planned in Washington and around the country.

Along the parade route, thousands of people will “Turn Their Backs on Bush.” An anti-war march through Malcolm X park will conclude with a “die-in.”

Military families and veterans will speak out at an “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit. The exhibit includes a pair of boots honoring each U.S. military casualty in the Iraq war and a wall of remembrance to memorialize the Iraqis killed.

A “Black Gold and Boots” event will be held outside the official “Black Tie and Boots” inaugural ball and a “Got Freedom?” Ball, outside the official Freedom Ball. Across the country, a campaign called “Not One Damn Dime” is calling for a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.

More than 100 counter-inaugural events are planned in communities throughout the country–from Omaha to Fresno to Atlanta to New York City. They range from picnics against the president to funerals for the American Dream to drumming circles for peace.

  • Mark Goldstone, chair of the Demonstration Support Committee of the Washington DC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
  • Shahid Buttar, a Washington DC-based lawyer and a member of the Guerilla Poetry Insurgency affinity group for the anti-inauguration protests. He also is a member of the Resistance Media Collective in DC.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, Shahid Buttar. He’s a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and member of the Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency affinity group, part of the anti-inauguration parties — also a member of the Resistance Media Collective, here in D.C., and Mark Goldstone, who is chair of the Demonstration Support Committee of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!


SHAHID BUTTAR: Thanks for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Shahid, we’ve been talking about some of these protests. Talk more about the planning here in Washington, D.C.— where people will be today, what they’re doing.

SHAHID BUTTAR: There’s going to be a variety of events. And one of the things that we find most encouraging about it, is that it’s going to be representing a wide swath of progressive perspectives. There’s going to be a march planned by an anti-war group here, with backing from United in Peace and Justice, and there will be a series of theater marches representing distinct views within that. So, there will be a theater march from a Green Party block. There’ll be a theater march from an anti-authoritarian block; and we’ll see this sort of unity among synergistic perspectives throughout the day in a variety of actions. The Billionaires for Bush will be auctioning off Social Security by the, I believe, the FDR memorial, which we find a — a nice juxtaposition, if you will. And there’ll be a — really a variety of tactics as well. There will be people lining the parade route by themselves turning their backs very solemnly in mourning, essentially, that we have another four years of a president who will continue to turn his back on the American people. There will be people out in the street — much more festive — colorful puppets and drumming and the more vibrant celebration of the rebirth of the next four years of the anti-war movement. And we’ll be — we’ll be seeing a variety of tactics, incorporating not just different issues but also different methodological commitments, so, you know, people being creative, on the one hand. People on another hand, perhaps, being more visually oriented with their signs. There’s going to be a mass convergence at 4th and Pennsylvania along the parade route for people who want to be visible to the President. And then there’ll be a series of actions that have not been publicized, groups that are taking either assertive action or action that they haven’t seen fit necessarily to coordinate with anyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Goldstone, talking about the crackdown here as to — I don’t know how much of this will be able to be pulled off through the day, the level of even public protest. Can you talk about the level of police, military, authority presence?

MARK GOLDSTONE: Well, Amy, the lead-in that you gave was a — a rather chilling representation of some of the things that have happened in the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital, to the ability of citizens to gather freely, to speak openly, to criticize the government, to dissent from governmental policies really since 1999. I make the point that the First Amendment, the right to gather, the right to speak, has in effect been under suspension in the District of Columbia, since 1999. People say, well, what’s been the effect of September 11, 2001? I say that the effect on the First Amendment right to gather and speak and express dissent is really more dramatic since 1999. Well, what happened in 1999 was the so-called battle in Seattle. From that demonstration in Seattle against the W.T.O., from that moment on, the district government has seen fit to expand the security zones, engage in preemptive arrests, harassment and surveillance of activists, numerous false arrests, and to the effect that the first amendment has, in effect, been under suspension. The response by the legislature in D.C., the city council, has been to pass a bill that they named the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004. And I testified in favor of the bill and I said that the bill should be called the “First Amendment Restoration and Police Sanity Act,” because all that act did was, in effect, restore the First Amendment rights that we had previously enjoyed, which, in effect, had been suspended since 1999, the so-called battle in Seattle.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? And will this be in effect for this inauguration day?

MARK GOLDSTONE: The First Amendment rights restoration bill will not be in effect because yet — it has not yet taken effect. So, it remains to be seen what will happen on the streets today. With the unprecedented security, with the closure of all these avenues open — that had previously been open and available to protesters — it really remains to be seen what is going to happen on the streets today. There’s a lot of people coming in, as Shahid explained, from all different groups throughout the country, and it’s just — it’s unclear what is going to happen. All we know is that people want to be visible. They want to express themselves, and they want to have their views heard. There was a very interesting report today in the Wall Street Journal headlined: “Public’s Mood Appears Uneasy as Bush Takes the Oath,” and it says that 52% majority of Americans surveyed say that the war to remove Saddam Hussein from power hasn’t been worth the financial and human cost. So, we’re in an interesting situation because, actually, the majority of the people at this point that are polled, again by the Wall Street Journal, indicate that they’re opposed to the war. So, we actually have a majority that are going to be there in opposition to the President’s war.

AMY GOODMAN: The question is, will they be heard? In the last few years, if we can look at the pattern here in the city, you talk about people’s rights to protest, but today is declared a 'national special security event.' First of all, what exactly does that mean, and even if the First Amendment act were in effect right now here (I’m talking about the one passed by the D.C. Council), and some might question why it has to be passed since there is a First Amendment in this country, but would this 'national special security event' trump any rules — laws passed by the D.C. City Council?

MARK GOLDSTONE: Well, we would assume so, but then you have the counter-argument that the First Amendment, which is a guarantee that every American enjoys the right to freely speak, the right to gather, the right to petition your government for redress or grievances may in fact trump the national security directive. So, all these things are very unclear. The other issue that we’re going to be faced with is: If the police have blocked off hundreds of — of blocks, and there’s no one allowed into these areas, if demonstrators get into the areas to express their opposition to the war and to other Bush policies, the question is, if they block those streets, who are they really blocking? Whose ingress or egress are they impeding? So, it’s going to be a very interesting legal challenge down the road, if in fact the government decides to make arrests for someone who, you know, is occupying or, you know, blockading a street or conducting a die-in a street that’s been blocked off to — to traffic for two days. So, there’s a lot of interesting and unanswered questions. And we have a crack legal team that’s going to be helping us sort through all of these issues, and we’ve been giving legal trainings to people to the best of our ability to explain to the activists what it is that they might face under this new national security regime, and this unprecedented security.

AMY GOODMAN: Usually what happens at these big events is that there are mass arrests that take place, and then afterwards, there are a lot of lawsuits. What has happened and, in the end, who gets vindicated?

MARK GOLDSTONE: Interesting question. In my testimony before the City Council, I made an extraordinary allegation. I alleged that the government of the District of Columbia was actually defending and facing more lawsuits for false arrests and for police misconduct and for police brutality than they had gotten convictions for criminal charges in the five-year period since 1999. The District government was facing something like ten lawsuits for this illegal police conduct. The most notorious incident occurred in September, 2002, during an anti-war rally when the police basically surrounding Pershing Park, a public park that’s just a, you know, a few blocks from the White House and falsely arrested 600 people that were gathered in the park. Some people were gathered to conduct a demonstration. Other people were in the park. And the government is facing, you know, multimillion dollar lawsuits for having, again, suspended the First Amendment and falsely arresting a bunch of people. And then — what’s interesting is that the common understanding of these false arrests is: 'Oh. What's the big deal? They put you on a bus and they arrest you and you’re let go.’ But as a criminal defense lawyer I can tell you that the people that are arrested not only are mistreated while they’re under arrest, they’re held for very long periods of time, and when they’re finally released, they’re actually facing real criminal charges that they have to come back to D.C. and defend on. And, in some cases, in the Pershing Park example, people were facing 270 days in jail and thousand dollar fines for, you know, essentially being in a park.

So, you know, we’ve seen a lot of these sorts of things, and I made the — I made the point that what was occurring was — was what I call the Ramsey plan, which is named after the Chief of police, Charles Ramsey in which they were arresting people for their thoughts, and not for their actions, and I analogized it to the Tom Cruise movie called “Minority Report,” where people were arrested for pre-crime. And the unfortunate thing is that — that Chief Ramsey defended the preemptive arrests as — saying: 'Look, these people were going to commit a crime at some point in the future, therefore, it was incumbent upon us as public safety officers to preemptively arrest them.' And this First Amendment restoration bill that I talked about basically took that theory out — took — threw that theory out the window and said, 'No, no, no, you have to have probable cause before you arrest someone for a crime.' And again, that’s nothing that’s surprising. We’ve known that all along. And it was — it was very scary that it took a city council bill to in effect restore the right to be free from arrest, except upon probable cause.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mark Goldstone, chair of the Demonstration Support Committee, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild as well as Shahid Buttar, who is a member of the Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency affinity group that will be active in the protest today. I want to find out how the police behavior is affecting what will be happening throughout the day when we come back here on Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, Shahid Buttar who is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and also part of the Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency affinity group, also a member of the Resistance Media Collective in Washington, D.C. As well, Mark Goldstone is with us with the National Lawyers Guild, and he’ll be on the streets watching what is taking place. As we’ve heard, what police have done in the past, the lawsuits outnumbering the criminal convictions, Shahid how has that shaped people’s plans for today?

SHAHID BUTTAR: It’s certainly something we’re concerned about, because of all its implications, especially for the state of dissent and democracy at large in this country; but in terms of our tactics and what people are resolved to do, to express themselves, I don’t think it matters much. It certainly deters people from expressing, perhaps, the full range of their convictions. I think that there are many reasons to be concerned; but the fact is Americans of conscience will not be intimidated, period. And there’s a movement afoot to restore democracy in this country, to defend civil rights, to defend the environment, defend the poor of both this country and the world; and it will not be intimidated by — by so-called security threats.

If I may, two things to point out about the militarization of this city over the last few days. The first is that there’s been no specific threat. Of all the times that this administration trots out its fake security warnings, this happens to be a time when we’ve not seen one of them. Yet, despite that, we see this lavish display of security measures. And then second, the people of this district, who aren’t allowed to vote for Congress, are being forced to foot the bill for the security measures. Joan [Claybrook] talked about the corporate money that’s funding the inauguration itself. The security measures to keep Bush from having to hear the dissent, to silence the people of this district more than they already are, that’s coming out of our own pockets, and I find that deeply objectionable as do — as will all of us out in the street today.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a great deal said about the least — at least $40 million of private money that’s going into today’s inauguration; but in fact, there are — well, well over (What is it we’re saying now?) $17 million that this District of Columbia will have to pay, not a very well-off area of this country, the actual District of Columbia. As we reported earlier, today’s inauguration’s expected to be the most expensive in history. President Bush is taking oath with one of the lowest approval ratings in history. And the security operation in place is the most massive in inauguration history. The inauguration also comes as people across the country observe Martin Luther King day this week.

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