Monday, October 10, 2011

DC museum closed after protest; pepper spray used

By JESSICA GRESKO - Associated Press | Oct. 8, 2011

WASHINGTON — The National Air and Space Museum in Washington was
closed Saturday after anti-war demonstrators swarmed the building to
protest a drone exhibit and security guards used pepper spray to repel
them, sickening a number of protesters.

Smithsonian spokesman John Gibbons said a large group of demonstrators,
estimated at 100 to 200 people, arrived at about 3 p.m. and tried to enter
the National Mall museum. When a security guard stopped group members from
entering, saying they could not bring in signs, he was apparently held by
demonstrators, Gibbons said. A second guard who arrived used pepper spray
on at least one person and the crowd dispersed, he added.

A number of groups have been demonstrating in the city in the past week.
The group that arrived at the museum Saturday included individuals taking
part in the October 2011 Stop the Machine demonstration in the city's
Freedom Plaza, which has an anti-war and anti-corporate greed message. The
group also included protesters affiliated with Occupy D.C., a group
modeled on the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. Occupy D.C.
has been holding marches and meetings in Washington's McPherson Square.

David Swanson, 41, of Charlottesville, Va., said he was among dozens of
people sickened by the pepper spray. He said he got sick even though he
was outside the building when the spraying began.

"I began choking and vomiting and got a headache," Swanson said.

Swanson, who says he has been part of the Freedom Plaza protest, says
protesters were not looking to shut down the museum but to make a point
about the massive military spending and the use of deadly drones. He said
the security officers got aggressive after some protesters unfurled a
protest banner inside.

He posted videos on his blog,, that shows a security
officer yelling "Get back" as pepper spray is apparently used. Several
people fell to the ground outside in agony as others coughed, rubbed their
eyes and fled the building.

Pete Piringer, a D.C. fire department spokesman, told The Associated Press
on Saturday evening that medics treated or evaluated a dozen people at the
scene but that no one was seriously hurt by the pepper spray.

Legba Carrefour, who is working with Occupy D.C., said a number of
individuals joined the march to the museum following an afternoon meeting
of the group.

Ann Wilcox, a lawyer working with Stop the Machine, said a 19-year-old
woman from Madison, Wis., was arrested by police. She paid a fine and was
released later Saturday. Wilcox said the protesters went to the Air and
Space museum to demonstrate against a drone exhibit.

The museum has an exhibit, "Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," that
covers the history of unmanned aircraft and their current use as offensive
weapons. Drones are often called the weapon of choice of the Obama
administration, which quadrupled drone strikes against al-Qaida targets in
Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, up from less than 50 under the Bush
administration to more than 220 in the past three years.

The museum is expected to re-open Sunday.

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