Police again try to stop D.C. rioting

May 07, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Police fired tear gas volleys again last night at Hispanic and black protesters who took to the streets for the second consecutive evening, setting fire to a car, breaking windows and stopping a city bus in a barrage of rocks and bottles.

Hours earlier, Hispanic and black community leaders had angry words for Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon when they met in the simmering wake of the riot, sparked Sunday night by a police shooting in the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, two miles northwest of the White House.

The mayor and senior officials made a brief walking tour of the area in the afternoon, but civil disturbances erupted again as scores of what appeared to be mostly Salvadoran protesters took to Mount Pleasant Street in gusty rain from the glowering sky of a tornado watch, smashing the storefront windows of a fast-food outlet and partially looting the restaurant.

Police had left the area after initially confronting the protesters, hoping not to provoke a repeat of the four-hour, anti-police violence Sunday night. But they soon returned in force, apparently anxious to contain the growing crowd of demonstrators to the immediate neighborhood.

Several police officers were hit by bottles, but there were no immediate reports of serious injury. One arrest was initially reported.

By 8:30 p.m., Mayor Dixon had returned to the scene as police moved block by block to disperse the crowd, using tear gas as they went. Former City Council Chairman David Clarke said Hispanic members of the community were being invited into a local church to air their grievances in the hope that tension would ease.

In an afternoon meeting with the mayor and city officials, mostlHispanic businessmen, activists and community organizers stepped forward, one after the other, to blame the civil eruption on what they said were years of bureaucratic neglect, a lack of funding for community services, under-representation in local government, racial discrimination and police insensitivity, even brutality, toward Washington's rapidly growing Latino population, largely immigrants from Central and South America.

"This is not an isolated incident. It is a systemic, endemic, chronic long-term problem," said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino interest group.

The disturbances, the worst ethnic upheaval in several years, has presented the mayor with her first civic crisis since she was sworn in four months ago.

"Mayor, it's time to clean house," said Mr. Yzaguirre, echoing the slogan Mrs. Dixon used in her election pledge to clean up the administration left by discredited Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.

"It's time to deliver on that promise," he said, prompting applause from the 30 or 40 community spokesmen who had gathered in a municipal hall not far from the scene of the conflict.

Police and community spokesmen said Sunday's rioting began after a policewoman wounded a 30-year-old Hispanic man in the chest. Police said yesterday that the man, identified as Daniel Gomez, was in a stable condition under guard in the Washington Hospital Center. He faces a charge of assaulting a police officer, said a police spokesman, Lt. Danny Gregg.

Residents of the area said the violence broke out after a rumor spread that Mr. Gomez had been shot while handcuffed.

But Lieutenant Gregg said that police who were at the scene, as well as two civilian witnesses, agreed that the suspect had come at the policewoman with a knife after she had tried to arrest him.

He said a folding knife with a 4 1/2 -inch blade allegedly carried by the suspect had been recovered from the scene.

"She instructed him three times, while backing away, to drop the knife but he kept coming," Lieutenant Gregg said. The policewoman then fired one shot from her 9mm pistol, wounding him in the chest. Both wrists were then handcuffed, he said.

He said the incident began when the policewoman approached the suspect and two other men in a public park and ordered them to put away what they were drinking.

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