We in the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) Weekly Action Group returned to Director of National Intelligence's Negroponte's 3100 Cleveland Avenue NW home last night for a silent vigil in memorial for the dead and tortured throughout the world (specifically, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq) and instead were welcomed to the strange security world of John Negroponte. Ten days previously, a DAWN activist had been detained for half an hour by a CIA police officer, though was subsequently released by the DC police without charges. The activist had been on public ground protesting and had not committed a crime, but the CIA police officer had explained that the Ambassador wanted someone arrested for this, a quote that has been corroborated by audio tape.
This time, a security person (didn't identify himself this time except over his phone as "John" - and we didn't ask being that it was a silent vigil - but may have been CIA like last time) immediately came out of an SUV to announce upon the arrival of 12 of us (ultimately 15) that he had called the police and that they were on their way.
We set up outside of his house and were as quiet as could be, holding signs and banners and lighting candles. Inside were John Negroponte and what appeared to be a wife and someone else. Within a few minutes, they looked out the window, put down their shades, and turned off the lights. Occasionally, we could see them peaking out the window at the spectacle below.
Several MPD (DC police) showed up, a secret service agent, another security person related to the home. If they were CIA like last time I can't say, but they were belligerent and as nasty as one might expect. They went around with notepads taking notes on each participant (and later photographs), saying out loud their description, sometimes with derogatory things to say about people's weight or their hair color or what was on the signs. They had to admit that we were being "very peaceful," "very quiet", though the security man John was quick to point out, "with a lot of attitude."
As mentioned, several DC police showed up. One higher ranking one attempted to engage us in conversation, but we stayed silent. Another of our group was getting concerned by police presence and was trying to protect others in the group by keeping his bike between John and the rest of the group, which led to a testy moment. Our friend thought it best to get himself out of the situation, and he did by leaving the vigil.
As for the neighbors, one set of neighbors called us derogatory names, but another set toward the end drove up and asked if we were protesters. One of our group came up and told her that it was a silent vigil aimed at Negroponte to which she exclained loudly, "I'm so glad! It's about time somebody protested him!" Then, police quickly whisked her away while John said, "That's rude."
At times, while most of us continued to aim our stares and our signs toward Negroponte (and thankfully, the security/CIA? wrote down what every sign said, not to mention what people's t-shirts said, what brand of bag people were carrying on their backs, etc.), it was absolutely impossible not to notice the darkness of 31st street glaring with several police cars, with officers walking amongst and between us, attempting to bait people out of silence.
The police chummed up to John and his co-worker having banter. Early on, one police officer asked John who lived here. He quietly said something like, "Ambassador John Negroponte." The cop quizzically said, "Who's that?" Then, a very quiet inaudible explanation, followed by a look of, "Oh, that's who it is" on the police officer's face.
At the end, one officer told us we needed to be off the road we'd been on for one hour. So, we walked onto the sidewalk in front of his house, which forced the police out of the way. A few minutes later, an hour having passed (which was the generally pre-agreed upon target time for staying) we left as a group or in small groups of two, as John for a short time decided to follow us down the street. He wasn't done taking pictures and was frustrated that some hadn't given him a clear shot. Of course, they could see us through security cameras, so I don't know why they needed the mug shots in addition.
We took our own pictures, audio, and video to document what was happening.
We've had very noisy protests that drew almost no police presence. This one drew an enormous amount, probably due to last time or out of boredom - who knows?
We were there to disrupt John Negroponte and express to him our outrage, albeit this night silently. We were also there to remember the dead and tortured, which despite the police, was how I spent most of my time. I noticed a huge, beautiful tree in Negroponte's yard and wondered how he would feel if someone had destroyed it. What a tragedy that would be, and I became sad at the thought. And, yet that tree serves to mask the murderer and torturer that is John Negroponte, a man who has no qualms about spying on any one of us. I went to think of people killed by death squads and was forced to confront a lot of intimidation tactics. Perhaps, we were the intimidators last night. The truth hurts, and in this case, it should.
We will be back Thursday, June 22 at 7PM, meeting at Woodley Park Metro, this time for a louder, more traditional protest. We ask as many of you to join us as possible.