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-5 a.m. 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 protesters 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.

Police Chief Isaac Fulwood said at least 13 police officers, including a deputy chief, received minor injuries. He said late last night that there were no reports of serious injury, and the number of arrests was not yet known. Some customers and staff were trapped in stores, one for as long as an hour and a half, before being rescued by police.

There was no comprehensive assessment of property damage in the area, but Chief Fulwood said police property worth $700,000 -- including cars and vans that were stoned or burned -- had been damaged or destroyed.

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. She remained at the scene for several hours.

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, exhorting 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 also was looted.

Mayor Dixon said shots were reportedly fired by one group of rioters, but it was not known what kind of gun was used or what the target might have been.

The first clashes occurred when police confronted the protesters about 5:30 p.m. They withdrew, however, hoping not to provoke a repeat of the four-hour, anti-police violence of Sunday night. They returned in force a couple of hours later, however, in an effort to contain the growing crowd of demonstrators in the immediate neighborhood.

By 11:30 p.m., while sporadic incidents of arson and rioting continued, police reinforcements arrived with helmets and clear-plastic shields prepared to enforce the curfew.

Announcing the curfew, Ms. Dixon said she was authorizing police to arrest anyone found on the streets in the Mount Pleasant or Adams-Morgan neighborhoods -- an area of almost four square miles bounded by Quincy Street and Piney Branch Road on the north, 12th Street and New Hampshire Avenue on the east, Rock Creek Parkway on the west and S Street on the south.

"We are now prepared to go to massive arrests," Mayor Dixon said before announcing the curfew. "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 many of the rioters were from outside the neighborhood, and he said they should go home.

Hispanic members of the community met late into the night, and were expected to deliver a set of demands to the mayor.

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.

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