About 20 demonstrators, including D.C. City Council member Nadine P. Winter, staged a four-hour sit-in in Mayor Marion Barry's office yesterday while their friends and families held an all-day vigil outside a Northeast Washington building to protest city plans to use the building as an emergency shelter for inmates.
"Mayor Barry is ramrodding this through to save his political skin," said Gary Walton, who charged that city officials are trying to rush inmates into the shelter before the community has a chance to react.
"The mayor's had two years to deal with this overcrowding in the city's prisons and he's let it become a crisis," said Walton, who lives next door to the proposed facility.
The District Building protesters, some of whom had successfully prevented construction workers from entering the proposed shelter at 525 Ninth St. NE Sunday night during a standoff with police, were briefly confronted by security guards yesterday, and one protester was dragged from the mayor's office, Winter said.
Last night, Winter (D-Ward 6) and her group requested a temporary restraining order in D.C. Superior Court to prevent the city from placing inmates in the shelter -- the old 9th Police Precinct house. A hearing on the motion is to resume today.
"I am alerting the mayor that the citizens intend to see him whether it's in the District Building or at his home on Suitland Avenue," Winter said in a news conference after the sit-in ended at 2 p.m. She said the protest was staged because Barry "has not given me the courtesy of even responding to my questions or telephone calls" about the shelter.
The protesters ended the sit-in without meeting Barry. A city spokesman said the mayor was out to lunch during the protest.
Winter also called for the dismissal of a security guard who dragged one of the protesters, Derek Murphy, out of the mayor's office and said that the mayor should give Murphy "a personal apology." A city official declined to comment on how Murphy was treated.
Department of Corrections Director James F. Palmer announced Friday night that the city planned to open the minimum-security facility to help reduce overcrowding at the D.C. Jail. City Administrator Thomas Downs said the facility would house mostly work-release inmates who had been "doubly screened" to ensure they were not a threat to the community.
Downs said last night that inmates would not be placed in the facility until at least today to give city officials more time to consult with residents and calm their "fear of the unknown." The shelter originally was scheduled to open yesterday.
Residents of the racially mixed neighborhood, which is marked by both renovated and aging town houses, have been protesting outside the building virtually around the clock since Palmer's announcement. Yesterday they chanted slogans and carried signs, and charged that zoning and building codes are possibly being violated at the site.
Sunday night, as city workers scrambled to renovate the building, which has not been occupied in about 10 years, neighbors parked their cars to block access to the rear of the building and about 50 residents locked arms in front to prevent a truck from delivering construction materials. Though police originally tried to push the demonstrators out of the way, officers were ordered back by Deputy Chief Addison Davis and the truck did not make its delivery. Work resumed yesterday.