Local D.C. government implements surge strategy at home

FIST, Washington DC chapter

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty signed an executive order last week authorizing the chief of police to seal off select neighborhoods. Armed officers will establish checkpoints where District residents and visitors are required to show photo identification and provide a “legitimate” purpose for their entry into the neighborhood. Those unable to demonstrate that they live there or have a legitimate reason to visit, such as a medical appointment, work or religious service, will be sent away and may face arrest.

Mayor Fenty and police Chief Cathy Lanier refer to the checkpoints as Neighborhood Safety Zones and have touted them as a necessary “crime” fighting measure. This ignores the fact that the real criminals in inner city neighborhoods are often the police—who harass, beat and sometimes kill innocent civilians with impunity. The establishment of an NSZ only encourages such behavior by police.

Chief Lanier is implementing the first NSZ in D.C.’s Trinidad neighborhood. Trinidad is a historically Black working-class neighborhood that has seen many of its low-income residents pushed out in recent years by gentrification. The mayor and police department have used a spate of 22 killings this year as a pretext for wholesale occupation of neighborhoods such as Trinidad.

Checkpoint opponents rightly decry the measure as an unconstitutional violation of civil liberties that threatens to turn District neighborhoods into an Iraq-style war zone.

“It seems interesting that police are willing to easily cast aside fundamental freedoms for quick-fix, lazy law enforcement tactics,” said Johnny Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area. Barnes promised that his group would do everything possible to protect the rights of the people.

Dozens of lawyers and law students are monitoring checkpoints to gather evidence of rights violations for a possible lawsuit.


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