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September 25, 2004

Damn Neighbors!

On the subject of arresting protesters or otherwise limiting their freedom of expression, GW (the law school I attend) is right next door to the IMF and World Bank (or is it the WTO? I always confuse the two...) buildings in downtown D.C., which means once or twice a year we get an email like this from the Dean of Students:
The Monetary Fund (IMF) has meetings scheduled for Oct 2 and 3 and according to local authorities, relatively small demonstrations/protests are planned in connection with these meetings. Because of the Limited Orange Alert in this area, security concerns have substantially increased. In preparation for both the meetings and protests we can expect that the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will - as they have in the past - institute street closures in the the area of the Law School -- especially on 20th Street -- and you can and should expect delays and detours in the entire Foggy Bottom Campus area over this weekend.
What's great about this is how matter-of-fact and ho-hum the dean is about the massive police presence involved with these military-style operations. Police in full riot gear surround the buildings near GW, and they put up 6-8 foot high barricades in the area streets. The barricades tend to control an area much larger than the two blocks occupied by the IMF/World Bank, ensuring that any protesters who do show up are not likely to be seen or heard by anyone involved with the meetings they're protesting. So we live in a free country and you have a right to express yourself, but legal professionals -- like the faculty and administration at a major U.S. law school -- are happy to accommodate massive police actions that threaten those freedoms and rights. And this accommodation takes place without a single word of critique. Great. Whatever you think of the police “response” to protests (which I would argue is less a response than an advance attack—the “Bush Doctrine” of military preemption applied against U.S. civil rights), these emails from the dean are also irritating because they make absolutely no attempt to interest GW law students in why this is happening, or to educate them in any way on the serious legal and social issues involved. Why are there protests? What are the protesters protesting? Why are the police responding in this way? What is the history of this kind of police action? Are current and former GW students currently involved in litigation against the city for serious police misconduct in previous protests? (Yes.) Aren't these serious and relevant legal issues? And aren't we at a law school, fergoodnessake!? Isn't an educational institution supposed to educate and encourage critical thinking? Or did I miss the memo that said law schools were supposed to teach law students to be obedient consumers whose only concern with protests is the inconvenience they might cause? It's things like this that make it abundantly clear why so many people think lawyers are a form of pond scum. Are legal issues like this not on the radar because there's so little money to be gained by paying attention to them?

Posted September 25, 2004 01:35 PM | 2L

Well, at least notices like these are better than the ones that talk about fellow students getting assaulted a few blocks away from campus....

It's things like this that make one want to be in GULC's Section 3, eh?

Posted by: In Limine at September 25, 2004 11:45 PM

Maybe the Dean assumes that the students are all bright and aware folks who already know what is going on. Or, if not, that they are capable of reading the paper (or websites) and educating themselves.

And, as much as I hate Bush, these types of police measures were in place when he was still a village idiot in Texas, so you can't really link the two.

I also wonder if the protective measures don't actually call more attention to the events than the small number of protestors alone would.

Posted by: musclehead at September 26, 2004 01:43 PM

IL: Yeah, let's get some of those Section 3 peeps to explain this to us through their alternalaw glasses!

Musclehead: Perhaps you're right about the Dean's assumptions of a general knowledge on the part of students about what's going on in the world. I wish I could see more evidence that such knowledge exists. But maybe I was just feeling a little preachy yesterday... I agree that this kind of police response to protest pre-dates the Bush doctrine; it goes back at least to Seattle and has some roots probably in police reactions to massive demonstrations in the 1960s and '70s. I attended a little lecture on this last week -- from a GW prof, no less, so it's not as if everyone here is blissfully unaware or apathetic about these issues. She confirmed that often the police far outnumber the protesters, drawing much more attention to the whole thing than would the protests alone. Also, the financial cost of such police presence is not small. In Seattle (by far the largest and most "violent" mass demonstration in recent memory), the demonstrators caused a total of $3 million in damage, mostly from broken windows and burned trash cans. I have no figures on this, but I'd bet the cost of many of the police actions since Seattle has far exceeded $3 million. Does that mean we should just let the protestors break windows and burn trash cans? No, but there must be better ways of accomodating their rights of expression than w/zip cuffs and batons and mass roundups and barricades etc. How different would these demonstrations be if the demonstrators felt the police were neutral, rather than hostile to them?

Posted by: ambimb at September 26, 2004 03:15 PM

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