MANY OF THE leading local lights of the 1999 protests against the WTO quietly held a public reunion last Thursday afternoon.
The occasion was a ruling, late Wednesday, that King County sheriff's deputy John Vanderwalker was entitled to his old job, including full back pay (with overtime) and benefits.
Vanderwalker had been fired last year for a pair of incidents during the WTO protests in which he had allegedly used excessive force and then lied to investigators about it. The reinstatement cannot be appealed.
For perhaps the first time, law enforcement officials and anti-WTO activists found themselves in agreement. King County Sheriff's Department spokesman John Urquhart said the sheriff was "shocked and dismayed" by the ruling. But, while the sheriff's office fumed, the mood on the grass outside the King County Courthouse, where some 50 people gathered on six hours' notice, was a mixture of anger and helplessness. The event, called by former King County Council member (and outspoken WTO critic) Brian Derdowski, was not so much a rally as a group counseling session, as speaker after speaker lamented Seattle's steadfast refusal to hold its police responsible for extensively documented abuses during the WTO protests.
The city still faces several class action lawsuits (which will be heard later this year). It is paying out civil claims to a number of citizens, including $100,000 to the two young women who were pepper-sprayed by Vanderwalker in one of the incidents that got him fired. But, as several speakers noted, none of the city's myriad post-WTO assessments have even addressed police abuses; instead, they have focused primarily on the city's poor preparation for the protests.
The assembled activists were less worried about Vanderwalker than about whether any future police attacks on protesters would be considered excessive. In assessing the ruling, the gloom was summed up by Derdowski: "There was a culture [of how civilians were treated during WTO]. It was created by a lot more than just by one guy."
For an hour, many of the city's top "fair trade" organizers clapped and shouted their agreement. And then, in ones and twos, they scattered for home-and suddenly it was just another late spring afternoon in a downtown park. And John Vanderwalker still had his job.