Hundreds of gay-rights activists marched on the Marine barracks in Southeast Washington last night to protest what they called an incident of gay-bashing by Marines outside a Capitol Hill bar last month.
The 400 to 500 demonstrators, many of whom blew whistles and waved placards, stopped in front of the barracks at Eighth and I streets SE for about 30 minutes, chanting, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as Marines in their dress-blue uniforms looked on without expression.
The protesters then marched to the 1st District police station, where they chanted, "Do your job!" to police officials gathered outside the building.
The march, organized by Oppression Under Target, a gay-rights group, was sparked by an incident on June 17 outside Remingtons, a bar on Pennsylvannia Avenue SE popular with gay people. Witnesses said a brawl broke out between three gay men and several Marines after one of the gay men argued with the Marines. Witnesses said that during the fight, the Marines uttered anti-gay epithets.
D.C. police investigated the incident, but the U.S. attorney declined to file charges. This week, Col. Peter Pace, commanding officer of the barracks, said two of the Marines who acknowledged their role in the fight have been fined $400 each, restricted to barracks for 30 days and ordered to perform extra duties for 30 days. The Marines have not been identified.
At a rally at the Eastern Market Metro station before the march, Sue Hyde, a spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the response of Marine officials and police was unacceptable.
Hyde said the punishment meted out to the two Marines was insufficient. "Hot air and cheap talk and empty promises will not satisfy us, Col. Peter Pace," Hyde said.
Pace has said he has no reason to believe anti-gay sentiment had anything to do with the fight.
"We're not safe to walk these streets and we are not satisfied," Hyde said. "We will not be the Marines' punching bags any longer," Hyde said.
Hyde said that Marines in the area had "rampaged" against gay people for more than 10 years, and that the Remingtons brawl was not an isolated incident. Hyde also called on D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. to reopen the investigation of the brawl. Deputy Chief Gary Abrecht, who was among the police officials observing and providing security for the march, called Hyde's allegations unfounded.
As the demonstrators marched the several blocks to the barracks and then to the police station, some bystanders waved their fists in support.
One pedestrian, who gave his name only as Russ, joined the march. Russ said he is an occasional patron of Remingtons, and said he has seen Marines open the door of the bar and shout anti-gay slurs. However, another onlooker, a Navy man who declined to give his name, said he doesn't believe Marines would attack gay people without provocation.
Police reported the arrest of one protester, a woman, but would not release details. Organizers said the woman was arrested after scuffling with a motorcycle officer, who they said brushed her with his motorcycle.
A police officer who did not want to be identified said he saw some of the scuffle and saw the woman kick an officer, but did not know what started the altercation.