Though May Day 2016 is a “day of rest,” the neighborhood business community and city officials are preparing for possible clashes between police and protesters after last year’s riot on Capitol Hill:
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.
“This year, May 1st falls on a Sunday, and for the past few years, various organizations and individuals have chosen to participate in coordinated and impromptu protests in downtown Seattle,” a special notice sent to Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce members Monday afternoon reads. “Recently these protests have migrated to Capitol Hill and have led to property damage and aggressive behavior that makes residents, employees, business and property owners concerned for their safety.”
UPDATE (4/29): Two days ahead of the event, the Seattle Police commander in charge of May Day operations said SPD is not planning a strategy to push the “anti-capitalist” protest groups onto Capitol Hill as they have done in years past. Speaking to the media on Friday, Assistant Chief Steve Wilske said that if the march turned violent downtown, he would give a dispersal order there and not try to first push protestors somewhere else.
This year, a Facebook post called for the anti-capitalist march to start downtown in an attempt to keep protestors from getting corralled on Capitol Hill. Wilske said Capitol Hill residents and business owners had a right to be upset when protestors were contained in the neighborhood. “The consideration … was because of the behavior of the crowd, we wanted to keep them where they were,” he said.
Since past protests have started on Capitol Hill, Wilske said SPD has also tried to disperse the crowd there with the thinking that protestors would be closer to their homes or modes of transportation. “They’re not starting on Capitol Hill this year, so I wouldn’t think there would be a specific reason for that,” he said.
Wilske said police may block protestors from marching against traffic to keep drivers from getting trapped in their cars. As the protest dwindles in the evening, Wilske said police will move protestors on the sidewalk to keep traffic moving.
CHS May Day Coverage
Following 2012’s downtown protests that damaged businesses and buildings throughout downtown, Capitol Hill has become a center to Seattle’s May Day conflicts:
- 2012: May Day 2012 on Capitol Hill: Street closures, rallies and protests
- 2013: Capitol Hill May Day 2013 Open Thread — UPDATE: Clash downtown climbs back up the Hill
- 2014: Capitol Hill May Day 2014 Open Thread — UPDATE: Arrests on Broadway, a lot of marching
- 2015: Seattle May Day 2015 turns into a riot on Capitol Hill
Many charges filed in past May Day protestors have ended up being dismissed. This year, Wilske said SPD would have a King County Prosecutor’s staff member embedded with its prisoner processor crew to help ensure police have fully documented their reasons for making an arrest.
SPD overtime staffing costs have increased significantly in recent years to deal with May Day marches. Overtime could be especially high this year with May Day falling on a Sunday, an SPD spokesperson said. Here are SPD’s overtime costs for past May Day events:
2012 — $115,307
2013 — $192,459
2014 — $305,448
2105 — $410,854
UPDATE 5/2/2016 7 AM: Lower Pike has joined downtown in boarding up. Meanwhile, East Precinct bikes appeared tuned and ready.
— Carly Levitz (@carlylevitz) May 1, 2016
— Amy Kate Horn (@amykatehorn) May 1, 2016
E Precinct bikes are ready pic.twitter.com/QbW7zLZTBV
— jseattle (@jseattle) May 1, 2016
Original Report: Chamber director Sierra Hansen tells CHS she plans to be at the city’s downtown operations center as Seattle Police officials monitor the crowds and manage the department’s response. Hansen said she is also coordinating efforts with the Downtown Seattle Association both in working with SPD and also better coordinating with members and area businesses. The @caphillchamber account will be used to keep the community posted as things progress on Sunday, Hansen said.
Expect to again see some businesses like the Starbucks roastery boarded up. Transit officials, meanwhile, say the plan is to keep Capitol Hill Station and the Downtown Transit Tunnel open under normal operations.
At the center of the day will be the annual labor and immigration rights march from the Central District to downtown — Marcha Y Manifestacion Anual del 1o de Mayo 2016 – 2016 May Day March & Rally — that begins with a 1 PM rally in Judkins Park. Last year, thousands peacefully marched in the hours before clashes between police and demonstrators climbed onto Capitol Hill and up Broadway.
Just before 5 PM on Friday, May 1st, 2015, crowds began to form for the planned “anti-capitalist” march from Seattle Central. By 5:30 PM, the arrests began.
“This is no longer demonstration management, this has turned into a riot,” Capt. Chris Fowler announced across the Seattle Police tactical radio channel. 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. The department would later say it had assembled its largest May Day contingent yet including units borrowed from neighboring communities like Bellevue and Tukwila. The larger response appeared to be accompanied by even more forceful tactics to control the protest. The heaviest fighting broke out around 7:30 PM after the crowd estimated around 700 protesters marched north on Broadway with hundreds of SPD officers following to attempt 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. On the night, 16 people were arrested — including 4 from Seattle.
In the days following the melee, Mayor Ed Murray met with representatives from the chamber to talk about how to bring an end to the cycle of May Day violence in the neighborhood while continuing the history of Pine and Broadway as a place where freedom of speech is protected and often exercised. “The neighborhood needs to attempt to take this back,” Murray told the group.
We ask that you wear black in solidarity with our comrades at the march and around the world. We will also have Puget Sound Street Medics on site to handle minor injuries. Be prepared for violent police repression (pepper spray, flash bang grenades, tear gas, beatings, arrests, etc.).
Their target, however, has changed. “We have decided to hold the event at Westlake for 2016, because Seattle Police will trap us at SCCC, like they did last year,” the Facebook event for the protest reads.
Earlier in the day, Westlake will host the Solidarity Music Festival, sponsored by SAFE in Seattle, the Gender Justice League, the Tenants Union of Washington, and the Backbone Campaign.
As for the other side of the equation in Seattle’s annual displays of May Day violence, police have been asked to take a different approach. Late last year, the Department of Justice-powered monitor appointed to oversee SPD’s use of force reforms found the department failed to adequately investigate mid-level use of force incidents, like those involving pepper spray, tasers, and blast balls. In one “crowd management” situation, officers who had been relieved from protest duty deployed pepper spray, a hair pull, blast balls, and a takedown without authorization. Upon reviewing the documentation for the incident, the monitor found the officers were not identified or interviewed by superiors.
Capitol Hill’s chamber, in the meantime, is trying to assure members with communication and practical advice:
- Stay informed about the protest to ensure you are aware of activities that may occur near and around you
- Call early and call often if you see anything suspicious
- Know where fire extinguishers and fire exits are located in your business, home and building
- Watch for suspicious activity and call 911 if you see anything suspicious
- Remove outdoor fixtures such as flower pots, chairs, table and signs if the protest moves up to Capitol Hill
- Consider closing your windows if you hear reports of tear gas or flash bombs being used near your work place or home
- Record and/or save any video from the day in case law enforcement contact you about suspicious or dangerous activities