There were 16 reported arrests and numerous injuries including three police officers sent to the hospital Friday night as clashes between protesters and police were concentrated on the streets of Capitol Hill for the third May Day in a row.
“This is no longer demonstration management, this has turned into a riot,” a voice crackled from command across the Seattle Police tactical radio channel. SPD later identified the speaker as Capt. Chris Fowler who again headed up the department’s May Day response this year.
CHS reported on the events as they happened — including drone sightings, a man stuck on a basketball hoop, and pictures of people taking Capitol Hill riot selfies. You can view the May Day 2015 on Capitol Hill timeline and reports here.
Again, an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 people took to the streets from Judkins Park to downtown in the annual pro-worker and immigration rights march and a Black Lives Matter rally in a peaceful demonstration.
And again in 2015, the violence and mayhem of May Day in Seattle was shoved back into Capitol Hill neighborhoods as police blocked the “anti-capitalist” and “anti-police” crowds that gathered at Broadway and Pine later that night from streaming into downtown with strong lines of armor-plated officers who deployed pepper spray, “less lethal” projectiles, and so many flash bangs that the efforts in East Precinct had to be re-supplied.
“All force used by officers during the evening will be thoroughly reviewed, as per department policies developed in partnership with the United States Department of Justice,” the department said in a report on Friday’s incidents.
Some protesters sustained large welts, cuts, and bruises they said were caused by the small grenades which created giant booms through the night and were joined by “improvised explosive devices” like fireworks and smoke bombs being deployed by protesters. Police also seized long wood poles, staves with bolts, heavy tools like hammers and wrenches, pocket knives, and heavy objects like ball bearings and rocks from protesters.
Anti-SPD signs and chants of “all cops are bastards” were met by hundreds of officers in place to respond to the un-permitted march. SPD didn’t release numbers of total officers deployed but the department did say there were more on hand — including units borrowed from neighboring communities like Bellevue and Tukwila — than in 2014. The larger response appeared to be accompanied by even more forceful tactics to control the protest.
— Heather Fey (@heather_fey) May 2, 2015
The heaviest fighting broke out around 7:30 PM after the crowd estimated around 700 protesters marched rapidly north on Broadway and began a large-scale game of chase with hundreds of SPD officers on hand to contain the group on foot, on bike, and in a fleet of SUV-style trucks and police cruisers. Police began moving in on some protesters near Broadway and Howell after a “dispersal order” was issued. The ensuing fighting at the location resulted in many of the reported arrests and the three reported officer injuries. The rapid, high-intensity response also worked — many of the protesters were sent scrambling from the scene where flash bangs echoed and streams of pepper spray were used to disperse the crowd. Several vehicles — including a much-photographed KIRO radio news jeep — were damaged and tagging and broken windows were reported up and down Broadway and the surrounding streets where the clashes were concentrated.
“Police arrested 15 men and one woman for a range of crimes–including assault, obstruction, and failure to disperse–and recovered weapons and vandalism tools from suspects,” the SPD report on the arrests reads. Three officers sustained what SPD called “serious injuries” including one officer treated for a dislocated shoulder, another for a broken wrist, and a third officer “was left with burns to their leg and ankle,” SPD reports.
“Police are still cataloging evidence recovered during the evening and determining booking charges for a number of the suspects,” the SPD report states.
Most of those arrested in May Day rioting were never charged in past years.
The mayor is slated to tour the area Saturday to survey the damage and talk with business representatives.
UPDATE: In a walking tour attended by his police chief and representatives from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Ed Murray viewed some of the damaged caused by Friday night’s unrest and police clashes.
“The neighborhood needs to attempt to take this back,” Murray said of his home neighborhood’s history of progressive values and civic action. “Protest doesn’t need violence.”
The mayor and SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole said they couldn’t confirm unofficial police estimates of 700 protesters at Broadway and Pine at the height of the demonstration but both said they had been told the crowd was approximately double what was seen in 2014.
With questions about why it seemed police pushed the protest into “residential Capitol Hill,” O’Toole and Murray both placed blame on the demonstrators — not police tactics.
“We didn’t anticipate that even before dark it would become violent,” O’Toole said. “In shutting it all down, it ended up back at the college. We fully expected them to go downtown.”
O’Toole said the demonstration would have been allowed to leave the Hill if the violence and damage hadn’t so quickly escalated.
One area the marchers would have been blocked from, however, would have been the mayor’s North Capitol Hill home. At one point in the night, Murray said, officials feared the group was on its way to target the residence but that the protesters changed course. Murray said he was at the emergency operations center downtown and not home during Friday night’s demonstrations.
Murray also said he wouldn’t want to take steps like working with Seattle Central to close its plaza before future May Day protests without a tactical recommendation from SPD. O’Toole said she wouldn’t suggest such a move unless “the community” asked for it.
Murray and O’Toole also lauded a recommendation from new Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scroggins to have dumpsters across Capitol Hill and downtown emptied prior to the May Day unrest. The move kept the mess from tipped dumpsters to a minimum and reduced the number of fires reported, Murray said.
O’Toole said she was less happy with the decision by some businesses to board up windows. “That’s how you make yourself a target,” O’Toole said.
A representative from Elliott Bay Book Company asked why more can’t be done to prevent the annually recurring night of vandalism and fighting with police. “There should be some way to circumvent this from happening,” she said. “Boarding up windows is really disappointing.”
“We’re willing to do things differently,” Murray said but also acknowledged that SPD was successful in shutting down May Day violence earlier in the night in 2015 than in previous years.
Murray and O’Toole also acknowledged that the ongoing tide of demonstrations and protests are testing SPD’s endurance and, sometimes, patience. The slate remains busy Saturday with another set of demonstrations including Black Lives Matter rallies and the possibility of continued May Day-related actions Saturday night.
Original report: Earlier on the morning of May Day 2015, it was clear Murray had been prepared for another night of violence in his home neighborhood. “This neighborhood has a history of protest — protests that have changed this city for the better. Protests in the anti-war movement. Protests for LGBT rights,” Murray said. “As we have seen in May Day after May Day there are also individuals being destructive,” Murray said before addressing public safety and traffic questions in a media conference in Cal Anderson Park.
Friday night following the main thrust of fighting, Murray’s office released a statement on the clashes advising business owners and citizens “to take reasonable precautions to protect their employees and customers.” Both Broadway QFCs closed early — the Broadway Market location after sustaining a busted window. Meanwhile, Starbucks responded early in the day to possible threats by closing 18 stores in the “downtown” area and encasing its $30 million-plus Starbucks Reserve Roastery in plywood. As of midnight, the facility appeared to have been spared any damage. Less lucky were a crossfit gym and other businesses which sustained graffiti damage and Seattle Central where demonstrators gathered and where some protesters tagged the large metal sculpture in the plaza as well as the Broadway Performance Hall as police corralled the groups back onto the campus and forced the protest to fizzle out into the night.
Friday night’s violence marks the third straight year that May Day’s nighttime conflicts have been contained on Capitol Hill. Leading up to the night, Seattle Police were again providing media updates about the department’s readiness for the annual protests following criticism in the wake of SPD’s response to the 2012 protests in which the damage and violence was centered downtown. In 2013 and 2014, more of the unrest was focused on Capitol Hill as SPD more actively pushed activity out of the downtown core using tactics similar to what CHS reported here during 2014’s Black Lives Matter protests – Why does the Seattle Police Department push protests up Capitol Hill?
After another night of vandalism, military-grade shows — and, sometimes, use — of force, and the ceaseless drone of television helicopters, Capitol Hill residents and business owners are likely ready for new tactics in 2016.
UPDATE: Actions and protests around Central Seattle continue Saturday with a “Justice for Black Lives: National Action Day” gathering at 23rd and Union starting at 12:30 PM.