ACLU Cautions DC Police As World Bank Protests Near

April 10, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Thousands of Americans are expected to rally and march here this weekend to express their views in connection with the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The vigorous public expression of controversial views is a cherished and vital part of American democracy, protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution. As the seat of our national government, Washington, D.C., has always been a prime location for such demonstrations. Whether the government agrees or disagrees with their views, peaceful demonstrators are always welcome here.

There have been indications that some demonstrators plan to engage in unlawful conduct as part of these demonstrations. While no one has a legal right to break a valid law, the practice of non-violent civil disobedience has a long and honorable history. And while the police have a right and a duty to enforce the law, an essential part of the law is that the police may use force only if, and only to the extent that, it is necessary to protect persons or property or to make a valid arrest. Thus, non-violent protest — even if unlawful — should always be met by a non-violent response.

In recent years, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies have shown their ability to deal with large demonstrations in a manner generally respectful of constitutional rights. The April 16-17 demonstrators should not assume that because the local police acted improperly at the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle last fall the D.C. Police will do the same. And the D.C. Police should not assume that because there was some violence in Seattle there will be violence here. We hope that the demonstrators will respect the law, and we expect that the police will obey the law, whether or not the demonstrators do.

As always, if constitutional rights are threatened or violated, the ACLU/NCA stands ready to take appropriate action. The ACLU office (202-457-0800) will be open on Saturday, April 15, and Sunday, April 16, in addition to its regular Monday-Friday hours this week and next week.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

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