Does Occupy D.C. remind you of any protest camps during your tenure?
Several come to mind, including the farmers who came to D.C. in 1979 to protest farm policy and camped out on the Mall for several months.
We knew they were coming; we’d had a series of meetings planning the routes they could take with their farm vehicles. But the morning they arrived, they basically disregarded all those agreements and tried to block off the major arteries in the city. We responded with some tear gas and made a few arrests.
But they made a tactical error later that day when they parked all their tractors on the Mall and went to the Capitol to rally. I came up with a plan, using garbage trucks, dump trucks, buses, tow trucks, police vans — anything I could beg, steal or borrow from city agencies — to create a barricade, bumper-to-bumper, north and south along Constitution and Independence avenues. When the farmers returned to their tractors, they found they were trapped on the Mall.
The farmers were just beginning to wear out their welcome when a big snowstorm hit, and they started to use their tractors to take doctors and nurses to the hospital. People came to really like the farmers after that. I thought we’d be saddled with them forever.
What eventually brought the protest to an end?
After a while they wanted to go home, back to their families.
Do you think there are similar negotiations happening now?
Unlike what’s going on now, with the farmers, they were all farmers. When you talked to the leaders, they got to their people and we were able to negotiate. The difference with the Occupiers is you don’t have a unified group to negotiate with.
It seems to me that this movement started out with a group that claims to represent 99 percent of the population, but they have a lot of different causes that they say they want something done about.
Then how do you figure out who you are dealing with and how to negotiate?
Police gather information about protesters and their plans any way they can. I’d be surprised if there weren’t plainclothes police walking through the park, maybe even sleeping there.
One of the big problems is when a group like that gets infiltrated. And we’ve seen that with anarchists — who dress in black, wear masks and come to create confrontation. They’ll get in with protesters who feel they have legitimate causes and then they go out on the street breaking glass, setting fires. They’ve gotten smart and will layer their clothing and pull the black stuff off. That creates an ID problem for the police.