The photograph of riot gear-clad police marching on Capitol Hill ten years ago this week is difficult to comprehend. What danger are they facing? Where is the enemy? This video of what they did when they got here, for CHS, at least, eliminates the confusion.
Where would you have been that night? Where were you? The story of 1999’s WTO riots in Seattle is one of geopolitics and global conflagration. There is also the story of the city’s politics and power structure and what forces ruled when things got hairy. But the story of Capitol Hill’s role in the ‘Battle of Seattle’ is about place. On their home streets, Hill residents found themselves under attack. That pepper-spray spouting, jack-booted thug of a law officer believed he was sent to clear those home streets. Sometimes with violence but often with tact, sometimes humor and always stubbornness, the Hill fought back. Here are the places on Capitol Hill where that story played out.
SUNDAY | NOVEMBER 28, 1999
Seattle Central Community College
That week’s Stranger ran calendar listings of anti-WTO events:
NO TO WTO PROCESSION–Coordinated by the Direct Action Network and several neighborhood groups, this creative protest will feature giant puppets, theater, music, and dance in a “festival of resistance” that starts on Capitol Hill. Meet at Seattle Central Community College, corner of Pine & Broadway, at noon. Call 632-1656 for more info.
Here is the city’s WTO Accountability Review Committee’s report on the procession:
11:30 AM: A group of protestors begins to gather on the SCCC campus. (After-Action Report)
1 PM: The SCCC group, numbering approximately 500, begins marching north on Broadway, escorted by Police. (After-Action Report)
1:45 PM: The Fred Meyer on Broadway reports that protestors have just purchased all of the store’s lighter fluid. (After-Action Report)
Afternoon: The protestors move towards downtown. Intelligence indicates that they intend to march on the Gap and shut it down. Several retail stores close at their approach. After blocking downtown streets for an hour, the protestors demand an escort back SCCC. Police agree, and the protestors return to the campus and disperse. (After-Action Report)
MONDAY | NOVEMBER 29, 1999
A comparatively quiet time on the Hill, things started to get ugly downtown the day before the WTO meetings were scheduled to open. For a good read about the players and the events happening around downtown, see Seattle Metropolitan magazine’s 5 Days in Seattle that Shook the World.
9th and Boren Warehouse
Protesters use this empty space as a headquarters as downtown’s activities intensify. For now, Capitol Hill is a place for gathering and planning.
TUESDAY | NOVEMBER 30, 1999
Boren and Pine
Groups of protesters gather at Seattle Central and on the Hill before streaming down to the Convention Center Tuesday morning. Here’s the description from Real Change News:
Sometime after 8 o’clock, the front line of marchers on both streets stopped at a predetermined point: the east side of Boren Avenue, just one block on Pine from the Paramount Theatre and one block on Pike from the Convention Center, where the delegates of the World Trade Organization were to meet.
A full block below them on Pike Street, at the eastern tip of the convention center grounds, a small group of police officers were just starting to put on their gear. They mounted horses and sat staring up the street for a time before realizing something was odd: the protesters were holding the line, not them. So, 30 minutes later, the police moved their line up to Boren.
For most of the day, Capitol Hill remains a staging area a few steps removed from the battle that has begun in downtown. The downtown protests bring the WTO meetings to a stop and there is an increasing level of violence in the streets. Tuesday night, attempting to lockdown the protest epicenter around the Convention Center, police begin pushing protesters up Pine. Capitol Hill becomes a war zone.
Broadway at Pine
As the police push rioters and protesters away from the downtown core, Broadway and Pike/Pine fill with a mix of the WTO combatants (well-trained, highly disciplined protesters vs. well-trained, highly disciplined police), bystanders, residents and party people. All can become victims — or perpetrators — of violence in the turn of a moment.
State of Emergency is only supposed to extend throughout downtown, but the police have pushed the protesters out of downtown and are now invading Capitol Hill, Seattle’s queer center. Residents and bystanders pore out of the bars and restaurants, disbelieving that an occupying force has descended on their neighborhood. A passive mass faces down the police line and is pointlessly gassed. The crowd regroups and is gassed again. And again. School kids decommission a city bus, chasing off the driver. Two junior high boys try to steal the bus for a joy ride but can’t reach the pedals.
The weaponry deployed by riot control officers includes chemical agents, projectile weapons, incendiary concussion grenades, pepper spray and riot clubs.
9th and Boren
Chemical agents are deployed to flush protesters out of the warehouse they have occupied. Residents in nearby apartments are also affected. The protesters exit the warehouse until the gases clear and then re-occupy. This scenario will repeat through the night.
Broadway and Republican
The violence of the night cuts in all directions. Property is damaged. Police officers are attacked. But in one particularly despicable act, a King County Sheriff’s deputy is witnessed convincing a woman filming the riot from inside her car to roll down her window and then dousing her and another woman in the vehicle with pepper spray. The women eventually settled a lawsuit over the attack.
Broadway and Pine
9 PM-11 PM: Protesters on Capitol Hill set fire to trash bins near the Egyptian Theatre and blocks the street with dumpsters, also on fire, at Broadway and Pine. Police disperse the crowd, but it re-forms farther north. This continues for two hours until police depart and the crowd disperses permanently. (ARC report)
Broadway and John
Edward Guerriero, manager of Twice Sold Tales on Broadway, locks his doors to protect shoppers stuck inside his business as the violence outside increases.
WEDNESDAY | DECEMBER 1, 1999
12th and Pine
Earth First! wins the essay contest for its description of December 1st. The crowd they describe has surrounded East Precinct headquarters at 12th and Pine after a night of Capitol Hill living under siege.
Replay scene three. Riot cops move systematically through downtown, pushing people up Capitol Hill. Residents take to the streets, screaming, “This is my neighborhood. People live here.” Standoffs ensue. The police retreat, establishing a one block perimeter around their own station. The crowd mills, advances, is gassed. Mills, advances, is gassed. Mills, retreats, is gassed. The Capitol Hill standoff displays par excellence the ignorant quirkiness of American politics. The crowd of drunks, activists, neighbors and hooligans can agree on nothing. Fist fights break out, not between cops and crowd, but internally. Activists who pull dumpsters into the road to stop the police advance are peacenicked and nearly beaten by violent pacifists in the crowd. A Republican county councilman and his minions spend at least two hours trying to convince the mob to move back to the sidewalk so that he can make a political statement. In the end, just before the final gassing of the night, the crowd is able to agree on a message, and the eerie strain of Silent Night rises up to the heavens, accompanied by the percussion of flash bangs.
Sonja Powell, 9, traveled with her parents from Maple Valley to protest against police aggression against protesters on Dec. 1, 1999. She marched with other protesters who left the Capitol Hill area and confronted police on Pine Street, near the Paramount Theatre. (Photo: Harley Soltes/The Seattle Times, 1999)
Here are the events that led to the scene described above. Again, from the city’s WTO ARC report:
6 PM: Police sweep through downtown to enforce curfew. Most protesters move up Capitol Hill. Several hundred gather at Broadway and Denny and march along Broadway to Pine; police lines assemble at one end of Broadway. (Seattle Times) The protesters begin breaking windows; police request reinforcements. (After-Action Report)
Evening: A police car trying to move through Broadway and Pine is attacked. Protesters swarm the vehicle and attempt to overturn it with the officers inside. In response, police fire concussion grenades and tear gas; protesters begin throwing bottles, soup cans, bricks and rocks at officers, both on the ground and from rooftops. A riot starts and continues for five hours. (Seattle Times; After-Action Report)
Many protesters express excitement and pleasure at having started the confrontation. (Seattle Times)
Broadway at Thomas
9:45 PM: An officer reports sighting a person dressed in black and carrying a molotov cocktail at Broadway and Thomas. (After-Action Report)
Broadway at Roy
10 PM: A crowd of 400 protesters begins to move towards the East Precinct, possibly in response to a request made on police radio channels for reinforcements at that location, indicating it is insufficiently protected. Radio dispatchers receive reports that a group of protesters has taken over the Broadway Chevron station and are attempting to fill bottles with gasoline. A unit responds and the protesters at the gas station are dispersed. (After-Action Report)
12th at Pine
11:15 PM: A crowd of approximately 1500 people descends on the East Precinct and surrounds the building. The group attempts to breach the perimeter several times, and officers guarding the precinct are the targets of rocks, bottles, and other debris thrown by the crowd. (After-Action Report)
3 AM: Tear gas and rubber bullets are used on the rioters outside the East Precinct. The crowd is successfully dispersed. (After-Action Report)
For another version of these events, check out this detailed description from the Seattle PI. Appears that the date on the PI account is incorrect however. Still, fascinating details.
THURSDAY | DECEMBER 2, 1999
Thursday marked the end of the ‘riot’ on Capitol Hill. Protesters got back to marching. From the city’s WTO ARC report:
8:30 AM: Demonstrators begin gathering for a march from SCCC to Victor Steinbrueck Park. (After-Action Report)
1 PM: The group at SCCC, now numbering approximately 1000, marches south on 4th toward Victor Steinbrueck Park. When they reach the perimeter at 4th and University, they negotiate with police, who agree to let them walk to the King County Jail, encircle it and remain for an hour, then disband. The group encircles the jail and remains, forcing the jail to go into a lockdown. (After-Action Report)
4:45 PM: A group of approximately 150 protesters gathers at SCCC and begins a march. (After-Action Report)
7 PM: Hundreds of protesters continue to surround the King County Jail. Police, in consultation with Ruckus Society director John Sellers, allow defense attorney Katya Komisaruk and protest leader Devon Hayes into the jail, where they examine the conditions in which arrested protesters are being kept. They then leave the jail and urge the protesters outside to leave peacefully. The protesters comply. (Seattle Times)
7:35 PM: The group at the King County Jail splits, half of them remaining and half moving up Broadway with a police escort. (After-Action Report)
FRIDAY | DECEMBER 3, 1999
12th and Pine
A candlelight vigil against police brutality is held on Capitol Hill. Marchers make their way to East Precinct headquarters. There are no rubber bullets or chemical agents. Just candles. Oh, and somebody brings a few boxes of donuts to leave at the station, too.
We also have no idea when and where this happened. But given the media’s role in the event — and remembering it ten years later — seems like a fitting way to wrap this up.
Jim Forman, reporter: Among many newsies, the KING-5 journalist is remembered fondly for his live, dramatic broadcasts in the midst of WTO rioting—while wearing a gas mask. A typical report: “Mmmph, mmmph, mmmph, mmmph!” He may have topped that with his supposed comment to a woman who says she was roughed up by Forman in a Capitol Hill encounter during the protests. Allegedly Forman shoved and shook her (he denies it), then called her a “hippie bitch.”
Seattle Times photos used with permission