City Desk

Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle Broken Up by U.S. Park Police

© 2013 Matt Dunn

The weekly drum circle in Meridian Hill Park that has been a mainstay in the District since the civil rights era was disbanded by U.S. Park Police Sunday, since the park is federal land and supposed to be closed due to the government shutdown.

The drum circle started as normal at around 3:30 p.m and was scheduled to run until 9 p.m. At around 5:30 p.m., two Park Police officers approached the approximately 40 drummers and told them the park was closed and they had to leave. The park, nestled between the Adams Morgan, U Street NW, and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, was also filled with families, picnickers, and tightrope walkers.

"I don't have an army to shut the park down, all I can do is tell people," one of the officers told people as they questioned why the park had to shut down.

Most of the drummers left the park after police instructed them to do so. The officers disappeared after about a half-hour and, with the exception of the drum circle, most activities resumed as normal.

William Taft, an organizer of the percussion gathering who is listed as one of the holders of the permit that allows the drummers to assemble each week, said the Department of the Interior contacted him last week to tell him that because of the government shutdown, his permit would not be valid this weekend. (Taft, who has participated in the drum circle for decades, said everything went on without a hitch during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns.)

At around 4:45 p.m., Taft held up a sign in the middle of the drum circle and told everyone that, because of the government shutdown, they could not legally be there and they should leave soon so they don't risk losing their permit, which runs through November.

"If we keep doing this we may lose our permit for the next four weeks," he shouted.

"Or we may not," one woman responded.

Soon after, the cops showed up because they said they had received a complaint.

The drum circle has deep roots in the history of D.C.'s black residents: When slaves were emancipated in D.C. in 1862, some celebrated by dancing on Meridian Hill. According to drummers, the regular drum circles began in 1965 following the assassination of Malcolm X. Today, a large group of mostly African descendants from all over the world plays African rhythms (and other percussion styles) to celebrate their history in a place that is also known as Malcolm X Park.

Drummers move the circle to Girard Street Park

"I feel that we have the right to assemble," said Keren Sheffield, who kept on drumming even as the cops tried to break up the circle. "Just because the government shuts down doesn't mean us paying our homage to our ancestors does."

After the drum circle dispersed, many of the participants went to nearby Girard Street Park, which is owned by the city, not the feds.

"This is what the shutdown looks like," Joe Kennedy, a longtime participant and coordinator of the drum circle, yelled.

Top photo by Matt Dunn; bottom photo by Perry Stein

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  • kf

    BOOOOOOOOOOOO park police.

  • Andrew Ratliff
  • Cartman Was Right

    Gee, who would complain about hippies mindlessly beating drums FOR SIX HOURS EVERY SUNDAY?

  • Miss Lu Lu Hogg

    You view is interesting, Cartman Was Right.

  • Boigah Lim
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  • charles

    I needed to re-read the first sentence 5 times to understand what it meant. Also, the "tight ropes" were likely "slack lines".

  • Jack

    If our military cannot go to church services on military bases during the shut down. They cannot go to a federal park and beat their tom-toms in a circle.

  • Boigah Lim

    The female cop in the picture threatened me with a citation because of a slackline I had set up. I was in the middle of taking it down when she decided she needed to assert authority.

  • Typical DC BS

    Obumbler and the Dumocrats are trying to make everything as difficult at possible. They will then blame the GOP for this stupidity.

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  • drez

    Of course they will.
    Because why would anyone carve out constituencies that may in some relatively-small way damage the GOP from being damaged by GOP actions?

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  • yup yup

    @Cartmanwasright - As a resident, I stay here because of the the circle. Hearing the drums echoing throughout my home is the best part of my weekend.

    When all this shutdown nonsense is settled I encourage you to visit long enough to see why such a diverse group of folks (of ALL incomes) still flock to this DC institution after all these years. If it's not for you, great: a better view for the rest of us!

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  • Bob

    The permit was issued BEFORE the shutdown. It was still valid. This was done for show.

  • Bob

    America doesn't shut down when the government takes a day off. If it does, then perhaps we need to rethink the role of government.

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