White House Sidewalk Protest Leads to Arrest of About 370

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

About 370 antiwar demonstrators were arrested yesterday after planting themselves on the sidewalk in front of the White House, a protest that stretched out for nearly five hours as police removed them in stages to avoid a backlog at a processing center.

The demonstrators, who had stayed in Washington after Saturday's antiwar rally and march past the White House, were carted away in Metro buses and police vans. Fingerprinting and booking continued late into the evening at a U.S. Park Police operations facility in Anacostia.

Those arrested were charged with demonstrating without a permit, a misdemeanor that carries a $50 fine and -- like a traffic ticket -- can be paid by mail or challenged later in court, said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman.

In an action that they had planned several weeks ago and discussed with police, the demonstrators went to the White House gate on Pennsylvania Avenue NW about 12:30 p.m. and tried to deliver to President Bush the names of all the soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq. When the president did not meet with them, they sat down for their protest.

With bullhorns and hoarse voices, they yelled at the executive mansion, asking whether the president was peeking from behind a curtain or hearing them at all.

"You are a coward! You didn't meet us in Crawford; come meet us now," said Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth, whose nephew, Army Sgt. Daniel Torres, was killed in action nearly eight months ago during his second tour in Iraq. In August, Saldivar had joined antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan during a protest outside the president's Texas ranch, when Sheehan had asked to talk with Bush about the death of her son, Casey Sheehan, in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan, who was among the demonstrators yesterday, was the first to be taken into police custody. She smiled at the crowd when police lifted her from the sidewalk and escorted her to a van.

At his daily news briefing yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush is "very much aware" of the past few days of protests and "recognizes that there are differences of opinion" on the Iraq war.

"It's the right of the American people to peacefully express their views. And that's what you're seeing here in Washington, D.C.," McClellan said. "They're well-intentioned, but the president strongly believes that withdrawing . . . would make us less safe and make the world more dangerous."

The group arrested yesterday was led by a coalition of religious leaders. They were joined by anarchists, military families, Iraq war veterans and political activists of various stripes.

"Only people can stop the war," said Laura Linder, 44, of Chicago. She was wearing a red, white and blue bandanna and a Plexiglas hockey mask, and her hands were trembling. She said that the weekend's protests were the first she had attended and that she had never been arrested. "I'm afraid of getting my face bashed in."

But the relationship between police and protesters was placid, even jovial at times.

The crowd had headed for the White House with signs, chants and guitars. Four monks kept time with drums and a gong. Half a dozen women pulled off their shirts, standing topless with signs that read, "Breasts, Not Bombs!"

In front of the White House, however, the chants and songs grew quieter as the remaining protesters wilted in the humid afternoon.

Earlier in the day, 41 protesters were arrested about 6:30 a.m. at two entrances to the Pentagon and charged with disorderly conduct, said Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman. They were all released and given court dates, Vician said.

Frida Berrigan, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who organized the protest, said the demonstrators unfurled signs that read "War is Terrorism" and blocked workers' access to the building.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company