DC mayor arrested during budget protest

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (AFP Photo / Getty Images)
Washington, DC mayor Vincent Gray and a handful of colleagues were arrested in the Capitol on Monday while participating in a protest against Friday’s eleventh hour budget agreement.

Gray, along with more than 200 other protesters, assembled at Constitution Avenue NE in downtown Washington on April 11 to rally against the recent US government budget compromise.

Police allowed the participants to sit in the street for around half an hour, blocking traffic in both directions, before arrests were made. Gray, along with DC Council Chair Kwame Brown and council members Muriel Boswer (D – Ward 4), Tommy Wells (D – Ward 6) and Michael Brown were detained by US Capitol Police. Sekou Biddle (D), who is filling Brown’s former at-large council seat on an interim basis, was arrested as well, along with around one dozen other protesters.

The protest was organized over the weekend following the last minute budget agreement, which some city officials feel was detrimental to the residents of DC.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Mayor Gray said that he was, "angry and terribly disappointed that the District of Columbia suffered collateral damage amidst partisan bickering,” and followed up with a Monday afternoon tweet rallying his followers to assemble in the District, asking, “I am calling on all residents of DC to join us NOW at the Hart Senate Office Building to stand for our freedom!"

Later in the day he Tweeted an addendum, saying, "Getting arrested on the Hill for DC autonomy @DCVote."

While the fine print of the budget deal has yet to circulate, all signs suggest that funding for abortions for low income women and a needle exchange program will be cut, and a school voucher program favored by Republicans will be re-initiated.

Washington is allowed to run its own government, to an extent. The budget and laws of the District are overseen by Congress. When a Democratic majority ruled both houses of Congress and the US Presidency in 1993 and 1995, and recently in 2009 and 2010, the city used its own money to run initiatives to help fund abortions for women on Medicaid.

Though many expected abortion funding to be cut following the Republican take-over of the House in January, the drastic disruption of needle-exchange financing comes at a rough time for DC. Many believe that the city's inability to pay for needle exchange programs on its own led to an increase in the number of residents contracting HIV. Approximately three percent of DC residents are currently living with HIV or AIDS, a level that health officials consider constitutes an epidemic. City-funded community programs managed to collect 300,000 syringes in the last year.

"It would be nothing short of disastrous," said Cyndee Clay, the executive director of at HIPS to the Associated Press.

Clay’s organization works with sex workers and drug users and is able to arrange for the exchange of around 8,000 needles a month. "I don't understand why they're doing this to us," she added.