By Michael Alison Chandler, Aaron C. Davis and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Two bank branches in Logan Circle sustained more than $110,000 in damage before dawn yesterday when at least 15 people dressed in black used bricks, hammers and sticks to smash windows, smearing red paint symbols that denounced the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, police said.
Security cameras in the 1400 block of P Street NW captured images of the vandals racing down the sidewalk at 5:20 a.m., residents said. As they went, they spilled red paint, which police say was later found streaked on the soles of several suspects' shoes and on their clothes.
The scale of vandalism was highly unusual, even in a city where political demonstrations are commonplace and sometimes unruly. Six people were arrested, and another person was charged later in the day when police clashed with almost 200 demonstrators.
The day's events were a prelude to a protest planned for today, the largest of several timed to coincide with the IMF and World Bank's spring meetings in Washington. Organizers expect more than 500 people to gather at 2 p.m. at Dupont Circle.
Yesterday, a two-hour demonstration through downtown ended near the IMF headquarters on 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where police tried to force the protesters off the street and then used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
One protester was taken to a hospital with a splint on his leg. Dozens of others, along with a police officer, were treated at the scene for burning skin and eyes. A 22-year-old demonstrator was arrested after kicking a police officer who had fallen off a bicycle, police said.
Police said they believe that the vandalism at the banks -- a PNC branch and a Wachovia branch -- was associated with the groups that organized the protests later in the morning, although several demonstrators denied involvement.
Five of the six suspects, ages 18 to 26, were not from the area, police said. The vandals painted the initials IMF and WB on the bank buildings, each in a circle with a slash through it.
"We believe that they are linked," said Cmdr. James Crane, head of the department's Special Operations Division. "It's a logical conclusion."
Robert Scanlan, who lives above the PNC branch, peered out his bedroom window after hearing the commotion below and saw the group sprinting by. When he left for work later, he realized that the vandals had smashed eight of the bank's large windows and left graffiti on a ninth.
"It was just horrible," Scanlan said. "I can understand they may have their beliefs about things, but this is way beyond . . . it won't get them anywhere."
An off-duty D.C. police officer working security at a nearby drugstore arrested two of the suspects. Officers arrested four others as they fled the area, police said.
Scanlan said detectives told him that one teenage girl had red paint on her nose.
The suspects were charged with felony counts of destruction of property and rioting, a charge brought because the group was larger than five people, police said.
Capt. Jeffrey Herold of the Special Operations Division compared the vandalism to the rampage through Adams Morgan after George W. Bush's second presidential inauguration. The impromptu incident in 2005 left windows smashed at a police substation and two bank branches, and about 80 people were arrested.
The District-based group Global Justice Action sponsored peaceful demonstrations Friday with about 75 people participating in a "speak out" at Edward R. Murrow Park. Speakers said the IMF is contributing to the worldwide economic downturn and hurting people in impoverished countries. Organizers said they support policies that put people's needs ahead of profiteering.
That protest and others were also planned as a reaction to the G-20 economic leaders' decision this month to earmark $1.1 trillion for an IMF-World Bank rescue fund, organizers said.
Yesterday's demonstrations were sometimes whimsical and sometimes threatening, with different splinter groups adopting different tactics.
About 8 a.m., a group of about 50 people marched in tank tops or spandex, doing fan kicks and arm curls while chanting "Kick out the capitalists!" and "Pump up the people power!"
Later, they joined with a group that had marched down Connecticut Avenue led by self-described anarchists. Members of that group dressed in black, and many wore hooded sweat shirts and bandannas over the mouths.
About 9:15 a.m., as they snaked down Pennsylvania Avenue past the IMF headquarters, chants turned darker. "No bailouts, no thanks! We'll burn down your [expletive] banks!"
A 20-year-old area college student and member of an anarchist collective said the group was not responsible for the vandalism but supported it.
"Banks should be abolished, and we believe in the destruction of capitalism and all organizations that support it," said the student, adding that he would not give his name because he feared government retaliation. "Housing is a right, and the banks are taking that away through foreclosure, so we do support any action against banks."
About 9:45 a.m., the protesters marched through Foggy Bottom flanked by police and approached the financial institutions' headquarters for a second time. Police ordered the demonstrators, who did not have permits to march in the street, to move to the sidewalk.
The protesters resisted, some pounding their hands on the hood of a police car. Dozens of federal and local officers arrived -- by bicycle, motorcycle and cars and on horseback -- to help quell the disturbance.
Police formed a line and began pushing the group onto the sidewalk with batons. In the tussle, some people fell. One officer from a federal agency used pepper spray, and the group retreated into Edward R. Murrow Park, where many plunged their stinging faces into a fountain.
The protesters had intended to block delegates from entering the meetings in the morning, but they arrived late.