Five apartheid protesters who staged a sit-in at a foreign currency trading firm were arrested and charged with unlawful entry yesterday morning after they jumped over a counter and entered a "high security area" of the firm, D.C. police reported.
The protesters, led by Randall Robinson, executive director of TransAfrica, and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, were issued citations and released, police said. They are scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court Monday.
The 42-hour demonstration started about 12:30 p.m. Monday when the five entered Deak-Perera's office at 1800 K Street NW and vowed to stay "indefinitely" to protest the sale of krugerrands, South African gold coins.
The firm closed its doors after the demonstrators stood in front of the display window holding placards that read "Ban the krugerrands." The firm remained closed Tuesday.
Meanwhile, on the sidewalk in front of the firm there were sporadic demonstrations by several dozen people who marched, held placards and chanted.
Robinson and Fauntroy, cochairmen of the Free South Africa Movement, were joined in the sit-in by three members of the group's steering committee: Mary Frances Berry, a U.S. civil rights commissioner; Sylvia Hill, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia, and Roger Wilkins, a member of the Institute for Policy Studies.
They had brought portable toilets as well as fruits and juices to last several days.
Deak-Perera office manager Barney Zeng said Tuesday that the firm would not ask police to arrest the protesters, but yesterday he said that the firm filed a complaint because the protesters "jumped over our counter and went into a high security area that is restricted to Deak-Perera people only. They had gone over the counter before on Tuesday and were warned."
Zeng said the arrest "wasn't an action that we really wanted to take. But after two days of being in our office, the protesters felt a stronger action was necessary to provoke an arrest."
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova said diGenova was not certain whether he would prosecute the five or drop the charges. He has dropped charges in more than 2,000 civil disobedience cases stemming from arrests made during 25 weeks of demonstrations outside the South African embassy. DiGenova previously said he did not want to "bog down" the court system with the cases but that he would prosecute repeat offenders.
The five protesters arrested yesterday now have been arrested twice in antiapartheid demonstrations, according to a spokesman.
Demonstrators have said that a court trial would help advance their cause because it would provide a public forum for their views about racial segregation in South Africa.
At a press conference yesterday afternoon in front of Deak-Perera, Robinson said, "The central objective . . . of this effort [is]the education of the American public."
The Deak-Perera sit-in "marks the beginning of a national campaign against Deak-Perera and all of those other [corporations] tht sell and distribute krugerrrands in the U.S.."
The "$550 million" that South Africa gains annually through American sales of thegold coins "help[s] to support the repression and oppression of 22 million blacks," he said.
Robinson vowed to return to the Deak-Perera office in D.C. if the firm continues to sell the coins. He said, "We promise you. . . we will be back." He also said that leaders of the movement are lobbying Congress passage of legislation that would ban the sale of the coin in the United States.
Describing the sit-in at Deak-Perera, during which several of the protestersslept on a stone floor covered only by sheets of newspaper, Sylvia Hill said, "Of course it was uncomfortable. But, our discomfort was no measure of thediscomfort that blacks experience in South Africa."