Capitol Police: Tough crowd

Advice for visitors to the U.S. Capitol: Do not construct a bomb-like apparatus with wires, honey jars, and duct tape; do not attach it to your chest in the manner of a suicide bomber; do not sing and dance while wearing said apparatus inside the Capitol building.

Advice for visitors to the U.S. Capitol: Do not construct a bomb-like apparatus with wires, honey jars, and duct tape; do not attach it to your chest in the manner of a suicide bomber; do not sing and dance while wearing said apparatus inside the Capitol building.

We know that you should not do these things because then-34-year-old David Olaniyi actually did them in 2003 and wound up having to spend a few nights in the psych ward of the D.C. jail before being charged with making a false bomb threat, disorderly conduct, and assault in the Capitol building.

The government abruptly dropped its criminal charges against Olaniyi after five months. He sued right back.

Originally from Nigeria, Olaniyi is a performance artist in Iowa City with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. He tried to bring his “Life is a Performance” philosophy to the Capitol to share it with other tourists as research for a stage play. He used duct tape in his costume because then-Homeland Security director Tom Ridge suggested people stock up on it in the event of a terrorist attack. He had passed through several layers of security in the costume and was singing, dancing, and posing with tourists in the Capitol Crypt.

But U.S. Capitol Police officers got sick of the show and arrested him. They searched his van and busted up some handmade pieces of art in the process, his lawsuit alleges. And then he wound up in the D.C. jail’s psych ward, where he was informed that he would be given a shot for diabetes. He told them he wasn’t a diabetic, but they insisted, and the shot knocked him out — his lawyers believe it was some kind of anti-psychotic for what a clinician determined were his “delusions of grandeur.” 

Olaniyi’s suit also alleges that federal agents went to lengths to harass him long after the arrest; such as allegedly encouraging his ex-wife to report him to authorities and interrogating him for hours at his house in Iowa, as well as threatening to take away his immigration papers.

The suit is moving forward slowly; it’s now in the discovery phase.

“In light of the threat of suicide bombers, the officers ought to be at minimum nervous,” says Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. “We’re always on the lookout for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.”

In 2004, then-chief of Capitol Police Terrance Gainer issued a general order to officers on the Capitol steps instructing them to shoot any uncooperative suspected suicide bombers in the head, instead of going for the ol’ familiar “center mass body shots.” I, for one, have since decided to exhibit my performance art in other venues.



Mayoral Maneuvers: Game over for Fenty bill

Mayor Adrian Fenty has backed down in his crusade to keep the “Grand Theft Auto” videogame away from D.C.’s kids. In 2005, the then-city councilmember introduced the Youth Protection from Obscene Video Games Act, a law that would have set up massive fines of $10,000 for retailers and big fines of $1,000 for anybody else — even parents — who provide violent or obscene games to minors.

The bill essentially would have given the weight of law to ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which deems certain games inappropriate for people of certain ages. Constitutional scholars testified before the D.C. Council that the bill was an affront to the First Amendment. The D.C. attorney general sent a warning letter. Similar bills across the country were going down in flames under the scrutiny of federal judges.

Fenty was impervious to all that: “I’m ready, willing, and able to pass this legislation and let the courts decide whether or not the videogame industry should be held to the same standard they’ve already agreed to,” he said at a 2005 hearing.

Fortunately for the children, Fenty decided to listen to the lawyers and all the restrictions were dropped. Now there’s no chance the city will have to pay attorney fees (as other jurisdictions have) to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the powerful videogame-industry lobbyists responsible for shooting down bogus statutes across the country.

The D.C. Council quietly altered the bill and passed it as the utterly harmless Consumer Education on Video and Computer Games for Minors Act, which will create a consumer-education program to help parents understand videogame ratings.

“There were significant constitutional questions raised on the grounds of free speech,” says councilmember Jim Graham. Changes to the bill happened while it was in the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which Graham chaired at the time.

ESA President Douglas Lowenstein released this statement: “We are pleased to have been able to work with the Council and the Executive to get a program established that supplements the work we are already doing in D.C. and around the country” on educating parents about ratings.

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson confirms that the bill was “scaled back” in the face of constitutional questions, but merely deemed it “an important first step,” saying there could be new videogame legislation in the future.


Capitol Power Plant: Hill residents are steamed

The neighborhood is making a stink lately about the Capitol Power Plant. The origin of this fuss? Imperceptible specks of filth on Hill resident Nadine Henderson’s eyelashes.  

“I’ve been on the Hill for 26 years and I can always spot a runner or bicyclist,” says Dr. Edward Fissel, who has an optometry practice on Pennsylvania Avenue, “because I can always find little black specks on their eyelashes.”

Fissel speculated the specks came from the power plant. He says he hasn’t seen the dirt in about a year, which could be explained by recent upgrades in the plant’s filtration technologies.

(The plant doesn’t actually generate any power — just steam and chilled water for the Capitol campus.)

But Fissel’s speculation wound up on the Moms on the Hill listserv a few months ago, where it stirred up latent anxiety about the facility. A community meeting with the Architect of the Capitol was organized for Dec. 5 to address questions of safety.

Both the Hill Rag and the Voice of the Hill (neither of which are affiliated with this paper) reported on the meeting, the apparent conclusion being that the plant is in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

The Architect of the Capitol wanted to make the plant a little cleaner seven years ago, but Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent no-no letters to stifle a proposal that coal be dropped as a fuel source. The Congress needs its hot air; why not let a wearyingly obvious bit of policy-pork be the source, and so what if it gets on our eyeballs?




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