MARK TAYLOR-CANFIELD had a strong premonition of trouble. N30 was starting out cheery enough. The mounted police in Westlake Park were smiling. Pam Schell, the mayor’s wife, and Kate Joncas, the head of the Downtown Seattle Association, could be seen enjoying the holiday carousel, along with a few brave youngsters. As Taylor-Canfield, one of the WTO protest organizers, sat in Westlake Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours before marchers were scheduled to gather, he predicted police would accommodate demonstrators in the end, despite the mayor’s warnings and threats of arrest.
Yet Canfield also predicted that weeks of confrontational rhetoric issuing from the city would discourage law-abiding protesters while attracting those who were most stoked for trouble. “There will be agitators because they’ve been provoked,” he said. “City officials are going to attract the very people they wanted to keep away.”
It appears that’s exactly what happened. On Thursday evening after the planned rallies had mostly broken up, a small, somewhat unruly young crowd, one that was noticeably more hostile to the police, marched back downtown from Capitol Hill. An SPD captain was seriously injured when he got hit in the eye by a flying object. The crowd was eventually corralled along Fourth Avenue and arrested in Belltown for refusing to disperse. Among those arrested were journalists, legal observers, and leaders of the King County Labor Council, who had arrived to negotiate an end to the standoff.
The next day, standing in Westlake Park next to the carousel, Mayor Schell noted with satisfaction that “the city worked really hard to accommodate” the protesters, who had been allowed to march through city streets with police escort as well as occupy Westlake Park without a permit. But the cooperative behavior that Schell took credit for on Friday stood in marked contrast to the rhetoric that he and other city leaders were wielding up until the day of the event. “I was concerned at the threats that were made in advance, all of the messages being sent,” said City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, who stood nearby on Friday as the mayor spoke. “There was a degree of intolerance.”
The city’s tough talk, combined with memories of last year’s police actions and Schell’s notorious “no-protest” zone, appeared to turn this year’s event into a demonstration that was more about the right to protest itself than issues directly related to the WTO. The most impassioned refrain shouted all day was “Who’s streets? Our streets!”
Zachary Lyons, director of the Washington State Farmers’ Market Association, says he got involved in WTO actions last year “to protest how corporate agri-business is killing farmers.” He was among the hundreds of WTO protesters who got “tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets out of nowhere,” he says. “So I came back [this year] to say, ‘No, these are our streets.'”
“This was a protest about protest,” Schell remarked the day after N30, showing that he got the point, though he seemed to dismiss it.
EVEN AT THE MOSTLY peaceful afternoon demonstration in Westlake Park, a significant contingent among the 1,500-plus crowd appeared to be more focused on opposing police than on marking the WTO’s one-year anniversary.
As they filled out Fourth Avenue, between Pike and Pine, the crowd was roughly divided between a group on the Pine Street side, who were singing, drumming, and speaking about issues related to the WTO, and a group near Pike Street, who were faced off against a police line.
About a dozen individuals from the Pike Street side even began stomping on and vandalizing a squad car that the SPD had foolishly left parked on Fourth. Plainclothes cops eventually tackled two of the supposed offenders and ran them back behind police lines in some of the first arrests of the day.
At one point, as the Pike Street side became more tense, an individual from the northern contingent came up and started chastising the other group, yelling, “This is bullshit! You guys are begging to get sprayed! This isn’t about the cops, it’s about the WTO! We’ve got some positive energy over at Pine Street—you should come over here!”
The cops further inflamed the crowd by ordering them, through some loudspeakers atop a police truck near Pike, to move out of Fourth Avenue. But the cops never followed through on this command, and the crowd eventually broke up. “What the activists were saying was vindicated,” says the ACLU’s Doug Honig. “By not moving against people, the protest dissipated. People got to have their say and then went home.”
But a few hours after that demonstration faded, several dozen protesters returned to the area, most of them young and few of them carrying signs related to the WTO. Zachary Lyons was among a group of organizers who left a celebration at the Labor Temple, in order, he said, to “herd students from the hot spot. They were behaving like youth, you know. We wanted to get them out.” Eventually, Lyons was arrested in Belltown with the group, as were several leaders of the local AFL-CIO.
A few of the protesters managed to escape through the back door of Sit & Spin, a Belltown club that was open for business and where, for some reason, police had chosen to establish a perimeter. When the cops discovered this leak in their trap, they busted into the club and, according to one staffer who did not want to be named, started warning the staff that they were aiding and abetting criminals. The police forced the club to lock its doors.
The next day, Mark Taylor-Canfield said he was “very thankful” that the police had closed off Pine Street to cars and allowed the protesters to gather at Westlake. But he said he was “very, very disappointed that after a joyful march, suddenly the story changed—mass arrests are not acceptable in a civil society.”
Unlike last year, the police did give several audible orders to disperse, rather than just ambushing people without warning. But defense attorney Dmitri Iglitzin describes the mass arrests as an unconstitutional street-clearing device. “Virtually all the charges will be dropped,” he predicts. “They know they’ll never get convictions” because they can’t prove that a specific individual was ordered to disperse and did not. Labor leaders and others claim that they had no place to disperse to, that they were cut off by police on all sides.
But police chief Gil Kerlikowske, speaking in Westlake the day after N30, rejected that claim: “Right here, they were clearly told to disperse; then they went seven or eight blocks north. You’re right—eventually, they had no place to go, when we arrested them.”
Other protest leaders directed their anger at the student demonstrators themselves. In an angry e-mail blast sent out Friday, Suzanne Scommodau (known as Zan the Rad Dyke Plumber), described the after-hours crowd as “roving butt-heads” who “were itching for a confrontation” and “blighted the whole event.”
By contrast, at a Friday rally at City Hall Park, King County Labor Council official Jonathan Rosenblum described the arrested young people as “our brothers and sisters” who were partners in “the cause.” And he rhetorically demanded, “Is this a city where a diversity of views can be heard? Or is it a police state?” On N30, it would be fair to say, the city managed to be both.