"Violence works"

The trashers set the tone, the city follows.

"Shame on you," the crowd is chanting. One of the kids in black lifts his mask, smiles, puts the mask back, and continues breaking windows at Ben Bridge Jewelers. "Are you listening?" he shouts at the building.

A girl and boy with black nylon across their faces go hard at Banana Republic's glass. Others are up the street kicking out a bank's windows while a team scales a building at 6th and Pike, spraying graffiti. It says, "Fuck WTO bitches."

Someone else sprays "Burn Down Ni" then stops. The exterior of Nike Town across the street has already been trashed and sprayed. After wrenching aluminum letters from the Nike sign, one in black urinates from atop the store's metal awning. "WTO, and I, gotta go," he says to laughter below. Inside the store, two men with worried cat's eyes peer from the darkness.

Alone at a window displaying Nike shoes, a kid named Brad goes quietly about his own kind of violence, applying superglue to the window locks.

"There's no point to that," a girl in the crowd says, looking upset.

"I'm making a point," says Brad, blond and pimply. "It sucks."

"That's it?" the girl asks.

"Nike sucks. The child labor, all that."

"That's who ends up paying for this," the girl says. "Some kid in Indonesia."

A man in a yellow slicker says to Brad, "OK, Nike sucks. But you can get there with nonviolence. Study the history of non-violence."

Behind him, a new gang of trashers moves in against Nike's windows.

"March without breaking something," the older man says, his voice rising as more metal is ripped from the storefront.

"Hey, man," shouts Brad. "Violence works!"

Sure, go ahead and hate the idea. But he had it right. Across Pike Street, the World Trade Organization meeting was supposed to be making the headlines this week. Powerful diplomats and wealthy traders were to debate important issues—global economics, the environment, labor. Instead, around the world, you had Seattle's mayor and police chief in the story leads and on TV for days, trying to explain the hurricane that hit what Mayor Schell calls his "gentle city."

Mike Moore, the WTO leader whose business is global commerce, was seen talking about graffiti and tear gas and broken windows. Bill Clinton used the middle of his speech to condemn the "interesting hoopla." Rather than arguing slave labor in China, the trade talk in Seattle was a debate on whether the cops lined up in the wrong place on Tuesday—at the ends of streets rather than in front of buildings that were smashed and painted. The march of 35,000 mostly law-abiding demonstrators was sure to have its effect, but not necessarily shut down the WTO meetings. The violent edge kept delegates in their hotel rooms and gave the protests long minutes of airtime in Tokyo and Cairo. The next morning on TV, graying radical and California Senator Tom Hayden gave this perspective: "I think people will be discussing this for a long time. Who were those people that shut down the World Trade Organization, and why?"

The kids in black and their running dogs were a violent minority among a peaceful, vocal majority demonstrating in Seattle's street. But as one Kid Black wrote in paint on the hood of a police car, "We won."

This should surprise no one. In 1970s Seattle, anarchistic bombers and angry freeway marchers helped stop a war. The violence of freeway marches is indirect: Property is appropriated, not trashed, with the side effect of a road-enraged line of motorists ready to rumble. The modern-day marches were inaugurated here May 5, 1970, the day after four students protesters were shot to death at Kent State. A march from the UW to downtown drew 3,000 demonstrators opposed to the Vietnam War. Freeway marches were repeated here after Rodney King's 1992 beating and in the midst of George Bush's 1991 Gulf War.

The threat of violence works as well. That point was also made in the 1970s, when pacifists failed to stop the nuclear warhead shipments to Bangor aboard the White Train. When Senator Henry Jackson paid them no attention, someone phoned in a bomb threat. The right thing was quickly done.

To kids in black, violence is a language. They talked with crowbars, hammers, and paint. And, lousy tongue that it is, you suddenly had the whole city speaking it.

Having failed to stop violent protesters Tuesday, police began arresting nonviolent protesters Wednesday. They assembled peacefully, sitting, then were dragged away. Flex-cuffs were applied as riot-gear cops held them down, sometimes putting a foot on their heads. En masse, they were bussed to the Sand Point brig. Along with a curfew, the National Guard, and lines that police dared anyone to cross, the mayor in effect declared martial law, if not war. "Step into the street," said a cop to a woman merely going by, "and you'll be arrested."

Police Chief Norm Stamper tried to walk a thin line—protests weren't outlawed, just "limited" downtown—and the mayor went so far as to issue an emergency order to arrest anyone who buys, sells, or possesses a gas mask. A police spokeswoman had no idea if any of this was Constitutional and didn't seem to care. The mayor had set the tone earlier on national TV, promising a new, meaner day. "Our response will be swift," he promised.

It was. Several hundred were arrested, most unresisting. Governor Gary Locke triumphantly squeaked, "Order has been restored!" and the mayor was claiming victory: His town had been clubbed back to gentleness. Like the kid says, it works.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow