The shah has come and gone, and during his brief visit generated enough activity to warrant comment on several points.
For openers, it can be noted that even though more people were involved this time, and involved violently, there was less disruption to traffic this week than there was when the Iranian Embassy held a peaceful birthday party for the shah on Oct. 26.
I think the reason for this is that on Oct. 26 the average commuter wasn't aware of the birthday party and didn't know that a big crowd would attend. So Mr. Average barged right into the traffic snarl. But the shah's visit this week had been well publicized. So had the possibility of demonstrations and violence. Forewarned, many Washingtonians avoided the White House area, and traffic therefore moved well.
In retrospect, I must give Harry S. Wender credit for a suggestion he made after the birthday party traffic mess. Harry had said, "If drivers had been warned that the Iranians were about to hold a big party, many could have taken alternate routes. Why don't they tell us in advance about special events that will cause traffic delays?"
I wasn't very impressed with the suggestion and asked, "Who are 'they', Harry? Whose responsibility would it be to watch out for these situations and warn the public?"
"An embassy that is planning a big party," said Harry, "always contacts the police and asks for permission to park in places that are ordinarily forbidden. It also asks for officers to handle the crowd. So the embassy knows there's a possibility of a traffic snarl, and the police know, and both ought to alert newspaper and broadcasters, who always cooperate in passing along warnings. What's so complicated about it?"
Inasmuch as traffic delays were kept to a minimum during this week's disruptions, I must now belately concede that Harry's suggestion makes sense.
I might also mention that several readers who were an hour late for dinner because of the Iranian birthday party were highly critical of "the D.C. police" for permitting parking on Massachusetts Avenue, which cut the carrying capacity of the street by 50 per cent. "On what basis do the police take unto themselves the right to permit people to violate a law, even a parking law?" one man inquired.
First, let me state that the Executive Protective Service handled the birthday party arrangements, not the Metropolitan Police Department, which is the unit people usually have in mind when they use the term "D.C. Police." Second, the D.C. Traffic Regulations state, in Sec 79(a), that several specified standing, stopping and parking actions are forbidden "except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the law or the directions of a police officer or traffic control device."
So it would appear the complaint is not well founded. When a large crowd is expected at a funeral, wedding, polital demonstrations, athletic contest or other special event, most police jurisdictions are more concerned with maintaining a safe flow of traffic and pedestrians than they are with slavish obedience to No-Parking signs, Rightly so, I think.
Unfortunately, it is also necessary to comment on the failure of the U.S. Park Police to call for help fron the Metropolitan Police Department on Tuesday. Park Police spokesmen say the violence would have erupted even if a larger number of policemen had been deployed, and they add that the fighting was brought under control so quickly that there was no need to ask for help.
My own view of it is that if there had been twice as many policemen in evidence, the probability of violence would have been halved.
Rowdies in a crowd are encouraged to start trouble when there appears to be a good chance of getting away with it. Their enthusiasm for excitement leaks badly when police in riot gear are strategically positioned from the outset.
D.C. Police had 170 riot-equipped officers within a couple of blocks of the White House. Most were on motor scooters and could have been utilized on - literally - a minute's notice. If they had been effectively deployed beforehand, there might not have been any violence. Many injuries and arrests might have been avoided.
But available riot specialists weren't used, and there is now clear need for the many police departments that function here to get their heads together and work out a better level of cooperation before the next influx of rowdies hits town.