D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and several City Council members were arrested Monday at a demonstration called by DC Vote on Capitol Hill to protest a federal budget deal that included city funding cuts.
What began at 5 p.m. Monday as a noisy demonstration of a few hundred people quickly escalated into a sit-down street protest that closed Constitution Avenue between First and Second streets led by Gray, the Council Chair and five members of the Council.
The demonstration was called to protest Friday night’s budget deal to keep the federal government open. President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s demand for riders on the D.C. budget, angering many city residents. The budget deal would prohibit city funds to be used to pay for abortions for low-income women and city money could not be used to fund needle exchange programs, a critical component in the fight against HIV. The budget deal also includes a school voucher program long opposed by many city officials, including Gray.
The mayor spoke and called for continued demonstrations. “I am fed up and we won’t take it anymore,” he told the crowd.
The crowd’s chants included “Who owns the streets? We do!” and “Free D.C. Now!” As the crowd grew the mayor took to the street and many demonstrators and Council members joined him along with the leaders of D.C. Vote. Then a few protesters sat down in the street and the mayor and Council Chair Kwame Brown joined them and others soon followed. Capitol police threatened to arrest those that didn’t leave voluntarily and when no one moved the paddy wagons were called.
Among those arrested with the mayor were Brown and Council members Michael Brown, Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells and Muriel Bowser. Sekou Biddle, a candidate for the At-Large seat vacated by Kwame Brown, was arrested, while his opponent in that race, Vincent Orange, remained on the sidewalk.
Also arrested were Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, and local gay and D.C. voting rights activists John Klenert, Nick McCoy and Ryan Velesco. Gay D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) did not attend the protest.