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Police Hallucinations

by Paul de Armond

Enemies everywhere
Multipurpose gun Exhausted and traumatized by two days of strenuous work attacking non-violent protesters, some police officers began to hallucinate.

Police fantasies about demonstrators took on a frighteningly surreal air. The initial intelligence failures by the police and FBI which anticipated terrorist incidents and police casualties now began to take on a life of their own. Police intelligence began manufacturing non-existant enemies for the fatigued police to fear. The recently released police radio recordings show numerous occurances of police reporting protesters armed with molotov cocktails. The only know instances of fires were bonfires and dumpsters. Somehow, these got turned into Molotov cocktails and police began seeing them everywhere.

The final incident of Wednesday night demonstrated the police strategy for clearing the streets was not only ineffective, but that civilian control of law enforcement ceased to exist for a time. The "Battle of Capitol Hill" degenerated into a "police riot," perhaps the only time during the WTO protests that police temporarily lost control of their forces on the street.

As the demonstrators withdrew from downtown curfew area at around 7PM, a group of several hundred protesters moved north on Fourth Avenue, followed at a distance by police. The group withdrew in an orderly manner, stopping several times along the way to vote on where they were going. They moved east on Denny Way into Capitol Hill and reached Broadway and East Harrison Street at about 7:45PM, where they joined another group which was already at the intersection. By now the group numbered approximately 500. As they passed through the neighborhood, they were greeted by cheering residents and honks of support from motorists. The crowd marched back and forth along Broadway for about an hour, carrying banners and accompanied by a band playing music. The atmosphere was one of celebration rather than protest.

At 8:15PM, the police radio dispatcher broadcast: "Let them march north. We don't want them to march into the city. Don't block them north." Once police reinforcements arrived, the police countermanded this order and began a pincer movement from the north and south.

The crowd was predominantly residents of Capitol Hill, many of whom had been angered by police the previous night when bystanders and people on their way home from work had been indiscriminately attacked by the police who had pursued demonstrators up the hill. At about 9PM, police and National Guard forces began arriving in the area. By 9:30PM, police closed several blocks of Broadway between East Republican and East John.

This cut off the crowd's escape to the north and set the stage for police attacks. Prior to the reinforcements arriving, police had concentrated on preventing the crowd from moving towards downtown -- a direction that they showed no inclination to go. Once the additional troops arrived, the police decided to attack. Somehow, the initial assaults on the trapped crowd went astray. At 9:39PM one officer radioed: "OK, we are stopped southbound at Republican. We have a large crowd; we are using gas and less than lethal (weapons) to disperse the crowd. They pretty much got us encircled right now."

Police kept reporting non-existent "ninjas" who were always about to attack
Tensions were high, due to the residents resentment of the police presence and police fears of violence. KIRO TV reported that the people opposing police that night consisted entirely of Capitol Hill residents. Afterwards, police said there were reports of agitators carrying gasoline bombs and throwing rocks and bottles. They said some protesters charged officers. No gasoline bombs were thrown that evening and news videos show only police charging, not civilians attacking police.

The Wednesday night fiasco on Capitol Hill began with the police radio relaying reports of "ninjas" armed with molotov cocktails stalking police with murderous intent. At 6:55PM Dispatcher says, "Unit 3 has been advised that some of the SPD undercover are in pursuit of some ninja-type individuals. Molotov cocktails have been falling out of their packs. There was no location given at this time." Later, "some ninjas" who were carelessly dropping molotov cocktails metamorphised into a dozen scary black-clad assassins. "We just got information from (intelligence) that says there are 12 ninjas -- as in people -- dressed up in black at Broadway and Olive, and it looks like they are trying to ambush some officers," said one call. Throughout the evening, police kept reporting non-existent "ninjas" who were always about to attack, but never materialized. At 9:19PM, one officer reported: "I was on the street just east of Broadway. There is a black-clad individual carrying a Molotov cocktail trying to flank our troops. He ran northbound on that street." By midnight, the imagined "ninjas" metamorphized into a crowd of 200 protesters taking over a gas station intent on incinerating Seattle's finest: "For units on Broadway: At the Chevron Station, callers advising there are about 200 protesters there and they're trying to get gas from the pumps. Station is open."

The incindiary ninja panic continued to spread for several days. After the protests, police were telling reporters about the tragic instance of an officer who was crippled for life as a result of being doused with gasoline and set afire by sadistic protesters. However, by the time that police began filing injury reports, the tragic case of the inflamable policeman had evaporated along with the mysterious ninja terrorists. Building on the local media's gullability, police began insisting that they never "seriously" injured anyone whom they attacked.

On Capitol Hill, police began using pepper spray, tear gas and concussion grenades shortly after 9:30PM, first at John Street and Broadway to the south, moving north, and near Harrison, moving south. More police blocked side streets, preventing the crowds from dispersing.

"The protesters looked completely calm to me . . . They were not instigating this," said Erin Katz, a Capitol Hill resident who watched from behind police lines near Pine Street. "I heard absolutely no warning and they started to gas them."

For the next two and a half hours, police rampaged along Broadway. It was during this period that some of the week's worst instances of police misconduct occurred. National television repeatedly aired footage of a Tukwila officer kicking a young man in the groin and then immediately firing a shotgun within inches of the young man's torso. The officer has not been publicly identified, but has been placed on desk duty while an internal investigation is conducted. Police officials have described the officer's conduct as "appropriate." At a parking lot near Broadway, two journalism students were videotaping the action. A King County deputy went up to their car and motioned for the young women to roll down a window. When they did, the deputy pepper-sprayed them both, shouting "Tape this, bitch!" The deputy remains publicly unidentified and on duty while an internal investigation is conducted. These and other incidents have resulted in civil suits filed against the Seattle Police as the agency in charge, as well as the officers involved.

Around midnight, the disorder had drawn several local government officials, who tried to get the police and demonstrators to disengage. They included King County Councilman Brian Derdowski. "Those council members tried to work through the chain of command of the Police Department and they were unable to get anybody," he said. For two hours, the civilian officials tried to get the police to cease attacking the crowd. Finally, around 2AM, the crowd began to leave. The police responded with volleys of gas and rubber projectiles.

"I asked the police to be professional and just take one step back. That would be the sign that these folks needed, and they would disperse," Derdowski said. "The police said they couldn't do that, so we went back and told the people that they needed to leave the area. And a lot of them did, but a few persisted. And they started singing Christmas carols. They sang 'Jingle Bells,' and when they started singing 'Silent Night,' the tear gas started. Something hit me in the back, and there was pandemonium there, and so we left the area," Derdowski said.

NEXT: Jail Blockade and Release

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Albion Monitor February 29, 2000 (

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