Making D.C. a police state

June 24, 2008

ON THE weekend of June 7, the Metropolitan Police in Washington, D.C., set up checkpoints throughout the working-class neighborhood of Trinidad, in the name of curbing violence.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty both advocated for the need to have the checkpoints for approximately five days to show their tough stance on crime. The weekend before the checkpoints were installed in the neighborhood, eight people had been murdered, and residents spoke to the media stating the lack of response from police for a long time prior to the murders.

Whoever wanted to enter the neighborhood while driving (it did not apply to pedestrians) was required to have a "legitimate purpose" or would be turned away at the checkpoints. A "legitimate purpose" was one of three things: a doctor's visit, going to church or visiting family and friends. If you did not meet one of those three criteria, you had to immediately vacate the area.

The police claimed they would only search a car if they suspected the occupants of the vehicle had drugs or guns, and would arrest anyone who resisted leaving "under a charge of failure to obey a police officer."

So why is it Lanier and Fenty have taken such measures, measures that infringe on civil liberties. leading some to call it "Baghdad on the Potomac"?

One could chalk up the checkpoints as a publicity stunt to prove Fenty and Lanier are hard at work fighting crime, but the checkpoint is only one of the many measures they have taken to restrict civil liberties.

In March, Lanier and Fenty announced the Safe Homes Initiative, where the police would go from home to home in areas with high levels of crime and ask the residents if they could enter and look for guns. Residents and some members of the city council objected to the idea because they feel people would be intimidated by the police. Another plan city residents had mixed views on was giving officers on patrol AR-15 semiautomatic assault riffles to "protect" crime-ridden areas.

While Fenty and Lanier talk about protecting people with these measures, there have been numerous issues with the police department. Last year, 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings was shot in the back of the head by some off-duty police officers. The officers said that they were fired upon first, however no gun was found, and the officers fled the scene after they shot Rawlings down.

In May, all charges against the officers were dropped because the U.S. Attorney's office stated "that investigators have found no wrongdoing by D.C. police officers."

Many of the crimes that occur in the Trinidad neighborhood can be linked back to symptoms of poverty. Creating a place where people feel they are in a police state will not solve the bigger issues at hand.

Lanier and Fenty's proposals are their version of a band-aid, trying to show they care about people, while in the end, their interests lie in protecting capitalism's interests. It is going to take a movement fighting to hold police accountable for their actions and fighting back against poverty in one of the richest countries in the world to make sure not another family has to suffer from violence or poverty.
Derron Thweatt, Washington, D.C.

Further Reading

From the archives