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D.C. Drum Circle Broken Up By Park Police

drum circle

Photograph: Matt Dunn

The weekly drum circle at Meridian Hill Park, a tradition celebrating the history of Washington D.C.'s black community since the civil rights era, came to a halt when the government shut down last week. Since the park is federal land, it is now closed to the public, forcing police officers to kick the drummers out.

William Taft, an organizer of the percussion gathering, was told that although under normal circumstances the group is allowed to assemble each week, their permit would not be valid this weekend. 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. He has participated in the drum circle for decades, and said everything went on without a hitch during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns.

"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."

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

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