Navigating his taxi through five of the new checkpoints set up around the U.S. Capitol, E. Ini pleasantly greeted the police officers who glanced inside his cab yesterday before waving him through. But as he drove by a bomb-sniffing dog poised beside an SUV with its tailgate open for inspection, Ini said he felt a profound sense of loss.
"During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, you didn't see this kind of thing," the 49-year-old Nigerian immigrant said. "Fear shouldn't grip the nation like this. It's demoralizing that a few people could cause a wall of change that affects the city's character and image of this country."
Police stop vehicles near the Capitol, whose police chief, Terrance W. Gainer, said of the tighter security: "It's expensive, it's inconvenient, but it's safe."
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
_____More on Preparedness_____
D.C. May Sue Government If 15th Street Is Closed (The Washington Post, Aug 7, 2004)
Security Checkpoints, Closures Grow (The Washington Post, Aug 6, 2004)
Johnson's Security Pick Probed by Police (The Washington Post, Aug 6, 2004)
Security Checks Ordered Near Federal Reserve (The Washington Post, Aug 5, 2004)
Church Group Stranded By Airline (The Washington Post, Aug 5, 2004)
More Preparedness Stories
In neighborhood diners and retail stores, on talk radio and in the backs of cabs, a set of decisions this week by the federal government to erect police checkpoints throughout the city and close a major District street has struck a nerve.
For some, it's a necessary precaution in light of new terrorism threats. "It's just a part of being in the world's capital," said Rey Laygo, manager of Gandel's Liquors, a deli and convenience store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
For others, though, it reinforces a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability. Beyond the traffic delays and minor inconveniences, the new security around the city has evoked long-standing frustrations over its lack of representation in Congress and over that body's ability to unilaterally set or veto city policy.
"There's a sense that if you had two senators up there and a vote in the House of Representatives, the Congress would be loath to shut down streets without the okay of the city," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "This is a city built on freedom, not on order and efficiency, and we don't often weigh the balance accordingly. Now we're creating this fortress."
The order to close a portion of First Street NE and to set up more than a dozen security checkpoints around the Capitol was announced by U.S. Capitol Police on Monday over the loud objections of Williams and other city officials, who were not consulted.
Since then, the federal government has erected more checkpoints -- first near the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and yesterday around the Federal Reserve Building. They also announced that they would block off the sidewalk on 15th Street NW alongside the Treasury building but stopped short of restricting truck traffic on parts of the street.
In the neighborhoods around Capitol Hill, where security is tightest, residents greeted the new measures with a mix of resignation and anger.
Walking his Rottweiler along Second Street NE, just blocks from the barricades, Darryl Payden complained that the new measures were imposed without any notice or input from the neighbors.
"It's once again the big dog telling the little dog what to do," the 43-year-old firefighter said. "It's whatever Congress tells us to do."
Standing outside Union Station and waiting for a Metro bus, Juanita Carey noted that the federal government has not rushed in to secure her against the drugs and gunfire she said plague her neighborhood near Central Avenue and the Prince George's County border in Southeast.
"When we need help, we don't get" any, said the 42-year-old pharmacy worker.
Those sentiments were mild compared with what listeners had to say on WPFW's talk radio program Wednesday morning. Callers inundated the station with complaints of "Gestapo tactics" and fear that the District is turning into a "police state." One caller complained that police who stopped a bus and checked out the passengers also stopped an Arab man in a car while they let a white man whiz by on a bicycle. Adding to the racial overtones of the debate, said host Ron Pinchback, is the fact that the federal officials imposing the new measures are white while the mayor, the police chief and other city leaders who oppose the measures are African American.