Police enforce curfew in D.C. for 2nd night 2 riot-torn areas relatively calm

few arrests made

May 08, 1991|By Peter Honey and Tom Bowman | Peter Honey and Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- More than 1,000 policemen enforced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in two predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhoods of north Washington last night, in a massive effort to prevent a repetition of the violent protests that erupted after a police shooting Sunday.

Declaring the curfew for the second night running, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon vowed to stop the "lawlessness" that turned parts of the Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan neighborhoods, only two miles north of the White House, into flaming battle zones Monday night.

Last night's show of force seemed to succeed. A few minor altercations about 7 p.m., when the curfew took effect, prompted police to fire tear gas canisters and arrest about a half-dozen black and Hispanic youths who refused to leave the streets, but by 9 p.m. the area was almost deserted.

By then, many of the police officers had taken off their riot helmetsand were standing in relaxed groups on street corners. Occasionally pedestrians would walk by, clearly violating the curfew. But aside from asking where they were headed, the police generally seemed content to letthem pass.

The relative calm contrasted sharply with the riots of the night before. City officials said the outbursts of arson, window-smashing and rock- and bottle-throwing Sunday and Monday nights had left at least 13 policemen injured, 19 police vehicles and a Metro bus damaged or destroyed, and several businesses, stores and restaurants burned, looted or otherwise vandalized. Between 40 and 50 demonstrators were arrested, a police spokesman said.

"We cannot surrender to that," Mayor Dixon said. "We cannot let these people . . . set the tone and tenor of this city."

Community activists and the police joined forces yesterday to break the spiral of violence, working together to urge residents to stay in their homes.

As the curfew deadline approached, an unidentified man, speaking in Spanish, told about 200 people milling outside a community hall: "Take it easy. There is a solution for everything." At the same time, a police officer, addressing the crowd while a helicopter hovered overhead, said: "Go home. This isn't helping anybody -- not even us."

There was a slight altercation when a line of about three dozen police with helmets and riot shields moved to disperse a small crowd of mostly Hispanic youths. As the young men ran away, some turned and threw bottles at the police. But none of the missiles hit the officers, and there was no retaliation. In another incident a few moments later, police arrested six black and Hispanic youths for violating the curfew.

Earlier, the mayor's office circulated leaflets that read, in English and Spanish, "Help us restore peace and order to our neighborhoods! The mayor has declared a curfew for the neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan and surrounding areas." The leaflets warned that violation would lead to arrest.

Community activist Alex Compagnet, head of a Hispanic civil rights group called Salud, told The Sun that a group of youths had smashed the windows of a McDonald's restaurant at 18th Street and Columbia Road about 2:20 p.m. yesterday. Police said they knew nothing of the incident, however.

Mr. Compagnet said that "white people from outside" the community had joined with young Hispanic and black residents to carry out much of the vandalism, which lasted six hours Monday night.

"This thing started as a Latino issue, but now many young people -- poor people -- are coming in just for the action," he said.

Earlier, Mayor Dixon summoned the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, Maj. Gen. Calvin Franklin, to a two-hour strategy meeting with Cabinet members and Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr.

The mayor said that she doubted it would be necessary to call in the National Guard but that she had asked General Franklin for advice and the assistance of his unit's intelligence resources to help deal with the crisis.

The mayor also announced that a "multicultural task force" -- including high-level city officials as well as leaders of the Hispanic and black communities in the troubled areas -- would probably begin work today to address a range of grievances expressed by residents.

Mr. Compagnet, a member of the task force, which is expected to number about 25, said police repression was a major cause of the original protests that broke out Sunday.

"The police treat us without dignity, like we are second-class citizens,"he said. The feeling of discrimination, he said, was aggravated by a general administrative neglect, lack of funding for community services, underrepresentation in local government and racial prejudice.

Census figures say there are about 33,000 Hispanics in Washington. Civic leaders, however, say the figure is closer to 85,000. Many are illegal immigrants from Central and South America.

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