AFTER ANTI-WTO PROTESTERS won a months-long battle for a rally permit, attendees Friday expected a quiet, uneventful celebration of their Nov. 30 triumph two years ago. Wrong. A crowd of some 400 gathered at Seattle Central Community College to march downtown, a familiar ritual most of the same people had done, with no permit, only three weeks previously when the WTO's Qatar meetings opened on Nov. 9.
That event was casually monitored by a handful of bike and traffic cops. Last Friday, protesters were outnumbered by hundreds of riot police and bike cops, helicopters, paddywagons, and even a couple of empty Metro buses. And a peaceful event turned angry when police refused to allow the group to march in the street or on its planned route.
Instead, protesters were funneled by rows of bike cops onto sidewalks and forced down Pine Street downtown, with police at routing intervals pushing roughly into the crowd for no apparent reason. The 13 arrests, in ones and twos, were often on questionable grounds. In one case, two peacekeepers separating the enraged crowd from police were thrown to the ground, then hauled away. In another, someone who paid to ride the Westlake Park carousel held up an anti-WTO sign and was promptly arrested.
City leaders and police predictably hailed the day as a success—few arrests and no property damage. It could easily have been a bloody riot, however, but for heroic organizers, peacekeepers, and other protesters who repeatedly defused volatile situations.
Away from TV cameras, SPD also shut down a celebratory, anarchist-sponsored punk rock show that evening at Secluded Alley Works near Seattle University. Police entered at 10 p.m., threatening to arrest promoter Matt Leonard and confiscate all equipment unless the concert was ended and the crowd of about 200 dispersed. One officer claimed there had been an anonymous noise complaint, Leonard stated in a post-event e-mail.
Organizers were considering continuing the show as an acoustic event, says Leonard. "Luckily, someone glanced around the corner."
The police had arrived in force. Vanessa Veselka, lead singer for show headliners the Pinkos, describes the scene: "Six unmarked vehicles, each full of three or four cops; two SUVs with tinted shades, each full of a whole bunch of cops, circling the front very slowly; eight paddywagons parked in the school parking lot, as well as other police cars parked around the corner; and about 60 cops around the corner heading our way.
"They shut it down for political reasons," Veselka says flatly. On a day when John Ashcroft was demanding that a ban on FBI targeting of political and religious groups be "relaxed," Peace Action's Fred Miller bitterly summed up his view of local law enforcement: "We have an outlaw city."