Police in Seattle “took the actions that they took” last night and “adjusted the forces necessary to be able to disperse the crowd,” according to Captain Chris Fowler.
Police during a press briefing asserted an “unpermitted” march with anarchists or “anti-capitalist” demonstrators was allowed to march downtown from the east precinct of the city. The demonstrators began to throw rocks and bottles. There were citizens downtown. Action needed to be taken, which ultimately included flash bangs, pepper spray and arrests.
Fowler said the demonstrators “surged on the officers” because “clearly their intent was to confront us and prevent us from making the necessary arrests.” They were pushed by police to the east so they would disperse in the area from where they had begun the march.
Eight officers were reportedly injured. The injuries were scrapes and bruises. One officer was hit by a rock in the knee.
This is the story being told in the news media. The Seattle Times reported, “Hours after that march ended, an ‘anti-capitalism’ demonstration turned violent as demonstrators hurled rocks, bottles and other objects at police and storefronts.” One woman, according to police, “driving by one of the protests suffered cuts from broken glass after a bottle was thrown at her car and shattered a window.” And, there were anywhere between thirteen and eighteen arrests, depending on what news source one reads.
If one watches video from the demonstration or reads firsthand accounts from individuals on the other end of the weapons being used for “crowd control,” it becomes clear this cannot be the whole story.
The Stranger had a reporter at the protest. He witnessed an “all out confrontation between angry protesters and angry police.” He added that pepper spray was being “liberally deployed.” Police were throwing flash bang grenades at the crowd like they were “beads at Mardi Gras.”
“I would not be surprised if someone is hurt right now,” Brendan Riley stated.
A news intern for The Stranger witnessed rocks, paint balls and glass being thrown by demonstrators. So, there is no dispute that instances occurred, where individuals were engaging in conduct that gave police grounds to swoop in and make an arrest.
That does not necessarily mean flash bangs or pepper spray were the answer. If the police saw who was throwing objects at them, they could just make an arrest. They also had bicycles, which they could easily use to push back anarchists off the streets and on to the sidewalks without escalating the situation. This was done by police forces at the NATO Summit in Chicago in May 2012 and it was effective without the use of pepper spray or flash bangs.
One video shot by Seacams during the demonstration shows clearly how flash bangs start going off. Only after can one hear objects being flung in the direction of police. At the forty-nine second mark of the video, there is a green skateboard that comes down behind the police line and the police remove it from the area. That was not thrown before police escalated the situation. And, while it is hard to see what is going on in the immediate area where the bangs go off, it is clear in the video the possibility of a riot increases when explosives are set off.
Another video with the police acting questionably, also shot by Seacams, shows a female police officer rushing a young woman on the sidewalk, who was part of the demonstration and likely appeared to be an anarchist to the officer. In a gruff raspy voice, she shouts, “Go back! Go back! Do what I told you to do,” as she uses her baton to forcefully move her away from where a group of demonstrators are headed. [This happens just over two minutes into the video.]
Then, there is this video by Thurban of bicycle police, who appear to be more like a military squad moving against an insurgency than law enforcement officers. Once nearly all of the demonstrators have moved from the intersection, where flash bangs had been going off, there is one demonstrator still standing and watching police from the corner. An officer with his bicycle gets close and plants his bike right by him. A few more officers come over with their bicycles and, abruptly, the individual is taken down to the ground and arrested for who knows what.
This what happened to three reporters during the demonstration:
How many demonstrators were injured? There will be no tally or figure in news media, not because anarchists do not give press briefings to press like police do when they want to pat each other on the back for a “job well done” but because the media does not really care.
Media hired private security to protect reporters yesterday from anarchists and one local news correspondent joked about wanting to see police push the demonstrators into the ocean.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said during the evening press briefing the violence did not occur just because the march was unpermitted. “I think it was also to do with the nature of the individuals in it and what they wanted to do.” In other words, these are individuals predisposed to causing mayhem so the police can use force liberally if they so choose.
Last year, May Day saw violence as well, with demonstrators engaging in property damage. An independent review found that officers had been confused about who was in charge and “when they could use force to stop violence.”
This year it appears the opposite occurred. The police were authorized to fire off flash bangs or pepper spray at their discretion and they were not restrained in their use of either. They did not want a repeat of what happened on May Day in 2012.
But, who has the monopoly of force at demonstrations? Law enforcement officers clad in paramilitary gear and armed with weapons for crowd dispersal or demonstrators in bandana masks and black clothing, carrying rocks, bottles and various small tools they can throw once? Who can reload and who has the training and permission from the government to use force to suppress demonstrations that become unruly? It is not the anarchists that most Americans want to shout “Get a job!” at for having “daddy issues.”
When a situation gets out of hand it should be understood ninety-nine percent of the time that it is not anarchists who are responsible, but it is police on the scene who failed. They failed to do their job to contain the crowd. They failed to keep citizens safe. They fueled the situation with flash bangs, pepper spray and other aggressive tactics that almost always are found in retrospect to have not been necessary, even if their use appears justified.