Good weather could be wild card in May Day police planning
While Seattle police are ready for potential property crimes, violence and rioting, it’s not really clear how many people will descend upon events on Capitol Hill and in downtown Seattle on Thursday, in part, because of the nice weather.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sunshine and warm temperatures have left nearly everyone in Seattle smiling — except police.
In preparing for Thursday’s annual May Day protests, police say the forecast of 80-degree temperatures could swell the crowds that march into downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. Whether that means a repeat of the violence that marred the 2012 event, or the much quieter May Day of last year, is the big unknown.
“The people in the city should expect to see a lot of officers out and about,” said West Precinct Capt. Chris Fowler, who is leading the department’s May Day planning for the second year. “We are prepared to take actions that are reasonable and necessary.”
With several events planned for Thursday, including the annual immigration march that brings thousands to Westlake Center, as well as a pair of marches being organized by self-styled anarchists, police figure to be busy throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Some downtown businesses have indicated they may close early in case violence breaks out as it did in 2012 when windows on several businesses were smashed.
Kate Joncas, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, said that from what she’s heard the immigration march is expected to be peaceful. But “there are a lot of unknowns.”
“There are several other groups who said they will get together for one thing or another. We are worried, but we believe the police department is very prepared. We’ll have to see how this will unfold,” Joncas said Tuesday.
Events on Thursday include the 14th annual “May Day March and Rally for Workers and Immigrant Rights” sponsored by El Comité and the May First Action Coalition. The march is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 611 20th Ave. S., and end with a rally at Westlake Park.
There is also the Capitol Hill May Day concert from 5-7 p.m. at Seattle Central College, 1701 Broadway. The concert is supported by the nonprofit group the Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore.
“This is a collaborative event between a handful of people. We want to underline it’s a music event; it’s peaceful,” said Charlette LeFevre, who is helping organize the concert. “Aside from the marches that are very important, we don’t want Capitol Hill to be known as the place for anarchists.”
LeFevre said she will be happy if 200 people, including families, attend the concert.
According to various websites, anarchists are also being encouraged to meet at Seattle Central College at 6 p.m. for a march into downtown Seattle. They plan to “reoccupy” an unnamed public space, according to one website.
A second anarchist march, dubbed “May Day Anticapitalist March,” is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the King County Juvenile Detention center at 12th Avenue and East Spruce Street. The reasons for the starting point are unclear.
Fowler and Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh said they’ve closely reviewed department operation plans for May Day protests in 2012 and 2013 to create this year’s plan, which will include a heavy presence of officers in and around downtown, including the department’s Force Investigation Team, to investigate any potential use of force by officers.
“It’s not our job to stop constitutionally protected free speech,” Fowler said.
Police emphasized that they will allow peaceful, lawful protest but said that officers will be armed with pepper spray and blast balls for crowd-control tactics in case violence occurs. Before using any of these less lethal elements, officers will issue a loud warning three times over a public-address system in their squad cars, McDonagh said.
McDonagh and Fowler declined to say how many officers would be on the streets.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant released a statement Tuesday in which she urged protesters and activists to act peacefully in their demonstration for immigrants’ and workers’ rights.
“I strongly oppose violence and property damage because this plays into the hands of the police and the political establishment who aim to discredit and undermine our struggles,” she wrote.
She also accused police of making provocative statements in an attempt “to whip up a polarized state of fear.”
“The Seattle Police have an unfortunate track record of violence and cracking down on activists and using pepper spray indiscriminately (including on journalists), which has been rampant during prior May Day events,” Sawant wrote.
Seattle police could not be reached to respond to her comments.
Police were heavily criticized for being ill-prepared and undermanned during May Day 2012, when protesters smashed windows, vandalized cars and caused other damage in the downtown-business district.
While no one was hurt, the business-oriented Downtown Seattle Association, upset at the police response, called for a thorough review.
Last year, police were better prepared when demonstrators turned angry and rock- and bottle-throwing erupted at the end of an evening “anti-capitalist” march from Capitol Hill to downtown. Only three windows at businesses on Capitol Hill were broken, and police arrested 17 people, more than double the number of arrests than the year before.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan