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The Day of the Police Riot

by Paul de Armond

As one protester was arrested more would leave the crowd and sit down
At 7:30AM on Wednesday morning, the police began mass arrests.

Direct Action Network protesters began assembling at a few locations and others made their way into the downtown core. Some of the arrests occurred at Denny Park, well to the north of the downtown. Police handcuffed some demonstrators and put them on city busses which moved the arrestees to the temporary jail at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station. Other demonstrators had their signs taken away from them, but were not arrested.

According to Kelly Quirke, Executive Director of the Rainforest Action Network, the police mass arrest strategy included targeting protest leaders. "At the police chief and mayor's press conference we had watched on TV late the night before, they announced that they were going to go after the ringleaders," Quirke said. The counter- leadership targeting was as ineffective as other police tactics, due to the Direct Action Network's decentralized decision-making process, which operated by group consensus. In effect, a network has no "ringleaders." Networks are extremely resistant to "decapitation," since the command and control of a network exists at many places.

Protesters converged on the Westlake Center and arrests there began at approximately the same time. As the morning wore on, it became apparent that Westlake Center, rather than the WTO conference location, was the focus of Wednesday's blockade. The Direct Action Network had correctly identified the shopping and business district as being the vulnerable point in the new police strategy. By 9AM Westlake Center was clogged by a peaceful sit-down protest as protesters patiently waited for police to arrest them. The crowds, consisting of demonstrators waiting to join the sit in and spectators from business district, continued to swell. As one protester was arrested more would leave the crowd and sit down. Once again, the tactic of "swarming" the target by stealthy approach had succeeded.

By 10AM it was becoming evident that the police tactics were not going to halt the sit-in and that the police were creating a situation which they could not control. A half-hour later, the police commander stepped between his men and the protesters. He walked to the seated protesters, leaned down and said, "We're outta here." He then motioned to his men to leave the area and the police withdrew in an orderly manner. The protesters, both seated and among the crowd, were jubilant. They had prevailed.

The Secret Service laid down an ultimatum to Seattle officials
The disengagement of the police at Westlake Center marked the failure of mass arrests as a police tactic. On Tuesday, the total number of arrests was around sixty. On Wednesday morning, somewhere around three hundred arrests were made at two locations. Wednesday evening, two hundred more arrests were made at First Avenue and Clay Street, near the Seattle Center. Another dozen or fewer people, mostly residents of Capitol Hill, would be arrested during the night. Approximately five hundred and forty of the arrests were for misdemeanors and eleven were for felony charges such as vandalism or looting. One of the felony arrests occurred in the Greenwood district, miles from the downtown area.

The arrests ended for two reasons. First and most importantly, the police were running out of transportation to remove those arrested from downtown. As the city busses arrived at Sand Point, protesters refused to leave some of the busses. Others obstructed the booking procedures by refusing to identify themselves. Many of the "arrest" affinity groups carried no identification for this very purpose.

Kelly Quirke, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, was arrested at Westlake center. "They drove us to a converted naval base, where we spent the next 15 hours on the bus, eating and drinking only the food and water we had on hand (they gave us none), doing interviews and organizing the next morning's press conference until our cell phones went dead (we were quite adept at getting out of the plastic cuffs), singing, meeting (of course) and demanding to see our lawyers," he said.

The Direct Action Network strategy of blockade did not end with the arrest of protesters. The target simply shifted from the streets to the jails and then the courts. The second reason for the police withdrawal was the demand by the Secret Service that the presidential motorcade route and speaking locations be given top priority by police.

The preceding day, as police and federal security officials had milled around in an atmosphere of panic at the Multi-Agency Command Center in the Public Safety Building, Ronald Legan, the special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the Secret Service, laid down an ultimatum to Seattle officials about the presidential visit. "I remember saying that unless we get control of the streets, we would recommend that he not come," Legan said. "Now the problem there is that, with this president, he sets his own agenda and goes where he wants. And we did not want to have to battle a 30-car motorcade in and out of Seattle."

Seattle Assistant Chief Ed Joiner said he would not characterize the discussion as "threatening . . . but it was clear that if the situation was going to be the following day what it was then, there was no way you could bring the president of the United States into Seattle."

Clinton sidebar But the White House had a secret deal with the AFL-CIO, which Clinton described in an interview with Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Michael Paulson. It is clear that Clinton was not aware -- or chose to deny -- that the Direct Action Network protests were nearly equal in size to the AFL-CIO parade. Clinton's chief of the Secret Service in Seattle, Special Agent Ronald Legan, estimated that the parade numbered 20,000 and the total number of demonstrators was 50,000. As the excerpts from Clinton's statements clearly show, some understanding that the AFL-CIO would control the protests existed between the President and the labor leaders.

NEXT: Post-presidential Disorder

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Albion Monitor February 29, 2000 (

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