'Free Franklin' Protesters Get Arrested During Demonstration

WASHINGTON -- Eleven protesters who call their group "Free Franklin" were arrested Saturday night inside the vacant Franklin School building in downtown D.C.

The demonstrators had entered the school during the afternoon to protest the closure by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty of Franklin Shelter, which provided services for the homeless until September 2008. The city is now considering selling the vacant space.

Free Franklin is supported by members of Occupy DC, though it claims independence from that movement. Occupy DC plans to discuss whether or not to support Free Franklin, and the nature of that support if provided, at a General Assembly meeting Sunday evening.

A press release being distributed on the scene Saturday elaborated on the protesters' motives. "The Franklin building is a public building that belongs to the people of DC and must be put to use for the benefit of the community to meet the greatest community need," it read in part. "We demand that Franklin be put to more productive use and a genuinely participatory process for DC communities to determine what is most needed."

At about 6:00 p.m., protesters and police lined both ends of the alley behind the building. Police entered the building and handcuffed some of the protesters before asking a member of Occupy DC's legal committee to relay a message to the group: back away from the alley and get behind the line of police tape some 30 yards away, or be subject to arrest.

"This is a public sidewalk," an observer on the legal team commented to HuffPost. "I'm not sure what harm there is in being here."

A minute later, the officers' concern became clear. A protester shouted to the rest of the group, "Does anyone have any plans to prevent the police from arresting the people inside the building?" The group discussed whether its "solidarity sitters," positioned at the alley's entrance, needed to leave.

Protesters and police quickly reached a compromise. Commander Sund of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's special operations unit politely asked the sitters to scoot over. They obliged.

The arrested protesters left the building one at a time, carried by officers, one holding each limb. Two were placed in the back of each police van, separated by a wall of plexiglass running down the middle of the vehicles. The first pair loaded up banged on the inside of the van and shook it back and forth. The crowd cheered.

Lifted into another van, a handcuffed female protester calmly yelled to the crowd, "Does legal know there are 11 of us?"

The first group of vans pulled away around 7:00 p.m. On the other side of the police tape, some protesters attempted to block the vans from leaving. Police quickly pulled them from the vehicles' path, holding two people briefly before allowing them back into the crowd.

Officers loaded up the other suspects and drove away without event. Three officers carried the suspects' backpacks from the building and placed them in another van. A couple of protesters picked up trash and scraps of police tape.

At 7:30, a chant of "just walk away" picked up briefly before the crowd dispersed and protesters walked the few blocks back to the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square.

PHOTOS from the night's events:



'Free Franklin' Protesters Arrested For Occupying Historic Building