As you can see in the video, the 14th and U Streets NW snowball fight was some good-natured wintery mayhem. So why did Metropolitan Police Department officers feel the need to bust it up -- and to draw a gun when they did?
Early on, MPD officers tolerated the chaos. Around 150 snowballers lined up on the east and west sides of 14th Street NW just north of U Street, idling politely as passing cars sludged through the intersection before rushing out to meet one another on the icy field of combat. A few activist-types carried riot shields featuring the anarchy symbol and unfurled a giant banner reading "No War but Snow War." One snowballer carried an IKEA bag full of snowballs, as good a visual metaphor for a snowball fight at that intersection as you could hope to find. Good times.
The crowds attacked each other without mercy, but each side duly recognized the rules of war. When cars stalled in the snow, snow warriors put down their arms and gathered to help push the vehicles free. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., a number of cops pulled up to or through the intersection, but none lingered or interfered with the snowball fight. One cop car got stuck in the muck while trying to make a U-turn at the intersection, and the crowd cheered when a half-dozen snow warriors pushed the squad car free.
At around 3 p.m., friends and I decided we'd seen enough flurry-fueled fury for the day. Before we could turn off the northeast corner of 14th Street and U Street, people around us began shouting "Hummer!" A red Hummer was stopped at that intersection, facing west. A plainsclothed figure was walking around it, speaking into a walkie-talkie. My first thought was that he was stalled; my second that he was a WMATA official. The crowd buzzed about there being some official stuck in a Hummer. While most snowballers up 14th Street continued to direct their attacks at one another, some people at the intersection began throwing snowballs at him and his vehicle.
The official's behavior did not discourage the snowballers. He paced in front of the Hummer, tolerating direct strikes with snowballs. Another person would have hopped back into his warm giant ride (or, you know, thrown snowballs back). At that time, I asked the people around me who the official was and several people told me that his name was Detective Bailey.
No one could confirm that he had said his name or shown anyone a badge, but many people said that he was Detective Bailey. At that time, he strode over to the crowd at the northeast corner and said, "When backup arrives, I'm having you -- and you -- and you -- and you -- arrested." He pointed to four individuals standing around me, all black males in their young 20s who seemed to be there together. He was not wearing a visible badge nor did he present one. Apparently, these guys had thrown snowballs at him.
The crowd began to swell. Detective Bailey -- and I am calling him that but could not confirm that that was his name -- told people, including me, to step back on the sidewalk, as the crowd began to clamor about police busting up the snow fight. The official challenged the crowd: "Someone throw another snowball. Someone throw another snowball. I dare you, see what happens." Someone in the crowd shouted back: "Who are you? What are you going to do about it?"
At least two squad cars arrived. A uniformed police officer walked over from the middle of the intersection brandishing a gun. At that time, the crowd was fully assembled on the sidewalk, and no one was throwing snowballs at Detective Bailey or his Hummer. He joined Detective Bailey, about 15 feet from me and the others on the sidewalk, holding the gun.
This officer never pointed the gun at anyone or waved it at snowballers, as some reports I saw on Twitter suggested. But it is frightening when someone walks in your direction carrying a pistol, especially when citizens and police are yelling at one another. He held the weapon at his side for 6 or 7 minutes before putting it away. Two other officers on the scene looked bored. The protester-snowballers rushed over, one unfurling a giant black flag and drawing cheers from the crowd.
People began to chant: "You don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!" By that time, most of the snowballing crowd was focused on the scrum at the northeast corner of the intersection. Police moved through the crowd and detained one white male, who looked to be in his mid- to late-20s, and moved him out to the intersection where the Hummer and police cars were idling. Apparently, he had thrown a snowball at Detective Bailey, though the young man protested that he did no such thing. He was held there for at least several minutes. Someone yelled, "We got a bunch of lawyers in the crowd!"
I did not see what happened to him -- I had my dog with me, the crowd around me was getting trample-y, and I wasn't making any progress to the front to ask questions, so I departed.
This much is certain. Detective Bailey, whoever he was, was in a pissy mood and provoked onlookers in an unmistakable effort to escalate the situation. Was he even on duty? Further, the officer who appeared on the scene carrying a drawn weapon unnecessarily struck fear into the crowd and might have provoked a panic. If MPD felt it necessary to disperse the crowd, there are easier and more reasonable ways to do so. Even one of the other police officers complained about being called in to stop a snowball fight.
edit: VIDEO POSTED BY ABC LOCAL NEWS HERE
The person I refer to as "Detective Bailey" can be seen and heard in that video saying "You're going to jail, and you're going to jail," to people on the sidewalk he accused of throwing snowballs at him and his Hummer. One eye-witness in the video says incorrectly that he "freaked out, got out of his car, and pulled out a gun." This is wrong -- at no time did he (Detective Bailey) brandish a weapon. In fact, a big part of the problem was that he didn't freak out -- or otherwise indicate his authority.
Instead, he paced in front of his car, talking on a walkie-talkie and enduring snowballs from snowballers who had targeted his ostentatious vehicle. Finally, he turned on the crowd and began threatening arrests. Up to that point in the day, several hundred people had avoided throwing snowballs at any of the police cars that came through the intersection, and even helped one car that got stuck. During that time that he was on the walkie-talkie, as Detective Bailey told the crowd, he was calling in backup.
So MPD responded to both his request for assistance and a 9-1-1 call about a man with a weapon? That is entirely possible, but just one officer appeared with a weapon drawn, and he did not seem to be in a hurry, and he continued to assist Detective Bailey after arriving and consulting with him. And when the white mid-20s male was detained by police, he yelled to the crowd that he hadn't thrown any snowballs at police.
also - some photos here
EDIT: COP ADMITS TO IT HIMSELF, "YES I DID"