What It's Like To Live Inside D.C.'s Militarized Security Zone The enhanced restrictions are ensnaring an even greater number of D.C. residents inside security checkpoints, transforming yet wider swaths of the city into a militarized security zone.
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What It's Like To Live Inside D.C.'s Militarized Security Zone

A man walks down an empty I Street NW. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

The supposed "Million Militia March" did not materialize in D.C. on Sunday, as the far-right movement that spawned the Capitol siege earlier this month recedes to ever-darker corners of the internet to plot scattershot attacks.

But even absent crowds of Trump supporters, law enforcement agencies pulled the security drawstring tighter Sunday, dramatically expanding road closures and vehicle restrictions to areas of the city normally unaffected by security concerns in federal Washington.

The Secret Service released an updated list of traffic closures leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week, which will now include Sousa Bridge and the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River (starting Tuesday at 6 a.m.). In addition, the vehicle-restricted area, where traffic is confined to residents or businesses, now spans all the way up to Dupont Circle and down to the Southeast/Southwest Freeway.

The enhanced restrictions are ensnaring an even greater number of D.C. residents inside security checkpoints, transforming yet wider swaths of the city into a militarized security zone. Inside (and near) those zones, some D.C. residents are struggling to do daily activities, like buy groceries or go for a run. Many are also feeling perturbed by the eerie transformation of their neighborhoods into places where armored vehicles roam freely.

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"It feels like Gotham City from the Batman movies where we are kind of on our own, locked in the city here," says Andrew Kovacs, a resident who'd brought his one-year-old son out to see the National Guard trucks parked at 16th and Streets NW. "You know, with the bridges closing out of Virginia, it feels like it's just us, and the whole world is watching."

Kovacs says this is his fifth inauguration in the city, and nothing compares to what he's witnessed in terms of either security of fear of potential violence. "Nothing in my lifetime compares to anything like this," he says.

Yolanda Inchauregui, a Penn Quarter resident, says she has mixed feelings about the heavy law enforcement presence in her neighborhood. On the one hand, as someone who previously served in the military herself, she feels safe and at home in this kind of environment, she says.

On the other — she's not in the military anymore. "Being a civilian, paying [a premium] to live in this area, you don't expect to have that same feeling of insecurity or have this stuff going on," she says. Over the last week, Inchauregui has found herself considering an exit plan, even thinking about making a go-bag in case she needs to leave her house quickly and can't take anything else with her. "I shouldn't have to feel that way," she says.

On a practical level, she says she's found it impossible to get around. She can't call a rideshare because the streets around her building are completely closed to traffic, and bikeshare bikes are shut down as well. She has been unable to go even on a regular running route without entering security screening that reminds her of TSA at an airport. "I think the city forgot that there's residents that still live here," she says.

Since pro-Trump protests have begun showing up in the city, Inchauregui says she's been considering moving away from the city, and recently, she finally made her decision. "There's just no point to live here," she says. "I feel like I'm in a war, and paying for it."

Brandon Stryder, who lives inside of a security zone, says he's also had practical troubles.

"There's a checkpoint actually set up right by our building. A few nights ago, we were trying to pull our car out to go get groceries and they put a cinder block, blocking the alleyway so we couldn't even exit the parking garage," he says.

Stryder was eventually able to get his car out of the garage, but hasn't been allowed back in and had to park on the street. "It was a shocking moment like, 'Oh, yeah, this is getting a little bit real.'"

Like Inchauregui, Stryder has mixed emotions seeing the militarization of his city and neighborhood. "I think we need it and I support them doing it," says Stryder. "But at the same time, it sucks that we need it."

Still, even as the inconveniences mount, some residents have managed to find a bright side.

Tamara Vance, who also lives in Penn Quarter, says she'd found "peace in chaos" in recent days. She says that while residents in the neighborhood were more fearful since the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6,, many were also more friendly — drawn together by the shared trauma. "More and more people are speaking to each other," says Vance.

Vance ventured out to see the locked-down city by foot. On the way back, slowly zig-zagging her way around the security perimeter, she had another positive interaction with a stranger: an officer on patrol gave her a lift home. "Some officer was so friendly, and took me on his golf cart and brought me back."

She plans to venture outside again on Inauguration Day. As an African American woman, and graduate of an HBCU, Vance says she's excited to see Kamala Harris sworn in as vice president. "If I can get close and just get a glimpse, that would just be a blessing for me."

East of the river, though residents aren't living among National Guard troops and security checkpoints, some are concerned about the imminent John Philip Sousa Bridge closure, which will make it much more complicated to get across the Anacostia.

"I take that bridge to go to everywhere, my eye doctor, the grocery store... And I just never anticipated that that bridge would be closed to road traffic," says Ward 8 resident Travis Ballie.

Ballie is planning on making a grocery run West of the Anacostia River to stock up on food before the bridge closes at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. But he's worried about his neighbors who don't have a car to get around and rely on stores across the river as a lifeline. While there are grocery stores and neighborhood markets in Anacostia, Ballie says they're often understocked and don't have as much variety.

"For someone who is not in my position, who does not have a car, [they] have to face limited public transportation, less than was available pre pandemic ... and sometimes shortages, for random things, which sometimes might necessitate a trip to a second grocery store, which is not close by," Ballie says.

Longtime community activist Ron Moten is worried about the potential economic impact of the bridge closures on Wards 7 and 8.

"We were under the impression that we were immune over here," Moten says. "But if people can't come across the bridge, that means our businesses are losing more business, and it's already hard enough as it is."

For Moten, the closures are a little personal, too: he has a date set up for Tuesday evening, and now he'll have to figure out another way to get there, he says.

Tommie Adams, another Anacostia resident, wasn't surprised by the bridge closures—he figured the security measures would continue to expand leading up to inauguration. He says he feels safe in his neighborhood, but he's still processing what last week's events mean for the entire city (and country).

Adams recalled his earlier days in the city, when he would sometimes get homesick for Nebraska, where his family lives. On those days, he would drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to marvel at the U.S. Capitol on his way home. The sight reminded him that "you're part of this fabric of something that is larger than you," he says.

On Sunday, he thought about walking over to the downtown areas to look around, but he wondered if it would be depressing.

"I wanted to go over there just to see it...[but] at the same time, I'm like, 'Would I feel kind of sad?'" he says. "But that's our house. I should have access to it."

This story is from DCist, the local news website of WAMU.

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