Thirty-two members and supporters of the Community for Creative Non-Violence were arrested at the National Visitor Center in separate incidents early yesterday and last night.
The arrests capped two protest rallies over the U.S. Department of Interior's decision Saturday to close a section of the Visitor Center that had been turned into a temporary shelter for the city's homeless "street people."
Before both confrontations, a mafority of the street people who appeared at the center chose to acceptfree bus or van rides to city-run shelters elsewhere, leaving the mostly young demonstrators to make the case for the homeless with scarcley any homeless present.
Ten of the arrests were made shortly before 11 last night as the CCNV staged a peaceful sit-down protest on a walk way leading through the Visitor Center toward adjacent Union Station. The main public area of the Visitor Center has remained open throughout the 10-day-long dispute between the Interior Department and the CCNV over the temporary shelter near the center's east entrance.
After about 55 CCNV members and sympathizers had settled comfortably onto the floor, singing, eating sandwiches and sipping tea, Edward Guinan, a former Paulist priest who is the group's founder, conferred briefly with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior Richard Hite, who called the closing of the shelter an "irrevocable" decision, according to Guinan.
"We'll be back night after night to prove that the decision is not irrevocable," Guinan declared.
About an hour later, some 25 U.S. Park Police officers arrived, warned the protesters to leave, and then arrested the nine men and one woman who refused to do so. All were charged with unlawful entry.
The earlier incident had begun Saturday night when a phalanx of Park Police officers refused to allow the CCNV group and a small number of street people to enter the shelter area.
"In the name of God, open this building," Mitch Snyder, a principal figure in the Visitor Center actions, demanded of the police guard. "It's a sin, what you are doing," Snyder said."You are forcing people to sleep on the street where some may die."
But when the Park Police stood firm the protesters began a sit-down demonstration in the middle of near-by Massachusetts Avenue NF, their leaders frankly saying that their aim was to block traffic and get arrested.
D. C. police, who assumed jurisdiction once the group had left the Park Police-patrolled Vistor Center grounds, said just as frankly that their aim was to avoid arresting anyone and expressed the hope the rally would collapse in the face of a sudden onset of cold weather.
As temperatures dropped, some of the group scrambled into sleeping bags and others lit bopnfires in two trashcans, which they set out in the street for warmth.
But while many of the protesters did leave as the night passed, there were still about 30 on the scene at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, according to D.C. Police Lt. Lawrence Byrd. Of these 22 were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly when they refuled to disperse, Byrd said.
"The only thing I was concerned with was the roadway being blocked," Byrd said. "It's important to me to open that roadway so the public can use it."
All but six of the 22 refused to answer a bail agency representative's questions, and were held at the central cellblock last night to await arraignment this afternoon.
Snyder, a member of the CCNV faction residing at 1345 Euclid St. NW, was taken by police from the cellblock to D.C. Gereral Hospital late yesterday for examination. Members of the Euclid Street group charged that Snyder had been beaten by police while in custody at the lst District substation at Fifth and E streets SE.
Asked if there had been any injuries to police or to those arrested, First District Sgt. Freddy Moss replied, "Not that I know of." Some members of the CCNV group had to be carried or dragged against their will, Moss added.
It was on Saturday that Deputy Assistant Secetary of the Interior Hite announced the decision to close the temporary shetler at the Visitor Center.
Citing what he said were health and public safety considerations, Hite said the government could no longerallow the sprawing night shelter and soup ketchen to go on.
"Wh are not turning people out into the cold like heartless monsters," said Hite. "We recongnize that there is a need, and we are more than satisfled that [the D.C. Department of Human Resources] can satisfy that need."
Approximately 80 to 90 of the street people were taken that evening to other shelters, principally at Blair School in the 600 block of I Street NW.
DHR Director Albert Russo, who was at the Visitor Center Saturday night and again last night, said about 190 men had slept at the Blair shelter Saturday and 150 yesterday. Two other available facilities have not had to be used, Russo said.
CCNV membewrs have charged that city-run shelters intimidate the homeless with questions and red tape. They also claim that there are far more street people here than the DHR or the Interior Department recognize.
When Park Police warned last night's protesters that they were liable to immediate arrest for unlawful entry, Guinan asked, "Whose law are you quoting?"
"It's the D.C. Code," replied a Park Police officer.
"The closing of this building is in violation of human law and God's law," replied Guinan.