WASHINGTON — The Capitol Police Board issued an emergency declaration Sunday in response to convoys of truck drivers who assembled around the capital region to protest the government response to COVID-19.
The overseers of the police force that protects Congress and Capitol Hill said the truckers and other vehicles could shut highways, bridges and roadways in the capital region, including in Washington. The protest, which started Sunday with truckers making two noisy laps around the Capital Beltway interstate highway, could last several days.
Officials were especially worried what the convoys would do Monday, according to a Capitol security official familiar with the preparations. The emergency declaration allows U.S. Capitol Police to request aid from the National Guard. It also allows payment of hotel and food bills for officers so they can stay near the Capitol.
Protesters drew inspiration from Canadian truckers who blockaded Ottawa for three weeks in February and caused a shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which links Ontario and Michigan and is a key trade artery. Temporary fencing was reinstalled around the Capitol in February as federal security officials responded to reports of truckers driving toward Washington at the time.
The emergency declaration cited the Canadian protests. It said Capitol Police will work with local law enforcement to manage transportation routes, potentially setting up checkpoints to keep roads clear. Members of Congress and their staff were advised to consider telework, commutes by subways or regional rail lines, or to consider alternative routes should they choose to drive.
One group of the truckers calling themselves the Freedom Convoy took to the roads to protest vaccination and mask mandates brought on by the pandemic.
Washington has already relaxed rules around COVID protections in recent weeks. The city lifted its mask mandate in certain settings such as restaurants, bars and gyms on March 1. A requirement that venues verify that patrons are vaccinated ended in February, though businesses can choose to keep vaccination requirements in place.
The trucks, many of them festooned with American flags, honked their horns whenever they saw supporters waving from overpasses or other vehicles. Rigs in the convoy made most of the journey traveling in the middle lane and slightly under the posted speed limit, radio station WTOP reported. It took between 30 and 35 minutes for it to pass.
The People’s Convoy, one of the groups organizing the protests, describes itself as law-abiding citizens on its website. They say they’re calling for an end to the state of emergency that’s led to the imposition of vaccine mandates by some governments and want Congressional hearings to examine the response to the pandemic.
After circling the 64-mile Beltway twice, most of the trucks headed back north to Hagerstown, Maryland, where they had assembled on Friday. Their next move isn’t clear, though they’ve stated they don’t intend to enter Washington or emulate the protests in Ottawa.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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