Riots hit D.C. for second night 'Massive arrests,' curfew ordered to quell violence

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

WASHINGTON -- Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon ordered a midnight to 5am curfew and "massive arrests" last night after repeated volleys of police tear gas failed to stop more than six hours of rioting by mainly Hispanic protestors in two of the city's northern neighborhoods.

The running skirmishes with police for the second consecutive night presented Ms. Dixon's fledgling administration with some of the worst ethnic violence the city has seen in more than two decades, observers said.

Protesters ran in groups of up to 50 through parts of the northwest neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan, showering police sporadically with barrages of rocks and bottles, smashing store windows, looting and setting fire to a fast-food outlet and at least two cars.

One group stopped and stoned a Metro bus, while others started numerous garbage fires on sidewalks.

Mayor Dixon visited the area twice: once during a period of calm at midday and again about 8:30 p.m., when she was forced to take refuge in her official car as clouds of tear gas wafted over her and crowds of bystanders.

Earlier, Hispanic and black community leaders had angry words for Ms. Dixon when they met to present grievances after the first wave of rioting, sparked Sunday night by a police shooting in Mount Pleasant, two miles north of the White House.

A black community worker from the area, Nia I. Kuumba, criticized Ms. Dixon for her initial reluctance to inspect the neighborhoods, exSee RIOT, 14A, Col. 5RIOT, from 1Ahorting her to "put on a hard hat and bulletproof dress, and come out anyway."

After a period of apparent calm throughout most of the day yesterday, the violence started in the late afternoon, in gusty rain from the glowering sky of a tornado watch. Scores of protesters, who community residents said appeared to be mainly Salvadoran, took to Mount Pleasant Street, smashing the storefront windows of a Church's fried chicken restaurant. A Giant supermarket and a drug store also were looted.

Police had left athe 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 in the immediate neighborhood.

Several police officers were hit by bottles, but there were no immediate reports of serious injury. At least one arrest was reported during the evening, but early in the evening Mayor Dixon said that arrests would be made only as a last resort.

Later, Mayor Dixon said, "We are now prepared to go to massive arrests. We're going to restore law and order, and we're going to do it tonight."

Observers said it was the worst outbreak of ethnic conflict in the city since riots erupted following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

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, mostly Hispanic 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.

"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 VTC gathered in a municipal hall not far from the scene of the conflict.

Ms. Dixon promised the leaders that she would give urgent consideration to their demand for greater Hispanic representation in the police force, and would move swiftly to set up a high-level commission with Hispanic representatives to investigate the community's grievances.

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. Angry words were exchanged and the men became disorderly, Lieutenant Gregg said.

Thirteen policemen were injured Sunday and at least seven police vehicles were destroyed.

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