On Saturday, April 20, 2002, I witnessed two shocking and unprovoked attacks by Seattle police officers on peaceful citizens demonstrating against U.S. economic, foreign and domestic policy.
The first incident occurred at Broadway and Thomas on Capitol Hill, where a peaceful crowd had occupied the intersection. The atmosphere was pleasant and festive, with drums, music and dancing. No acts of violence or vandalism were being committed.
Suddenly about 15 officers on bicycles came zooming around a sidestreet corner and rode at full speed through a banner and into the crowd of people. There was no warning, no order to disperse, no threat of arrests. The officers simply came speeding around the corner and careened into the crowd. Since the banner blocked the officers’ view, they could not see who they were going to hit _ they could have easily struck small children or old people crossing the street.
The impact on the human body of a bicycle going at top speed is no trivial matter. Several lost shoes lay in the street afterwards, testifying to the force of the collision. I saw police arresting one man whose face had been bloodied either from that impact, or from having his face pushed roughly into the ground.
About 15 minutes later, as people walked peacefully back to Seattle Central Community College, several bicycle officers rode up onto the sidewalk and threw two young men walking near me violently to the ground. One of their victims hit either the sidewalk or a brick wall, and lay dazed with blood streaming down his face. Police prevented others, including a man who identified himself as a medic, from approaching to assist the injured man. A police officer finally treated him only after an organizer repeatedly urged police to calm down and to help the victim.
I understand that the SPD has taken flak for not arresting the freeway protesters last week, but this action was completely unnecessary and over the top. There are ways to clear a peaceful crowd other than a full-on Robocop assault. Police could have first made an announcement asking people to leave or risk arrest. If people refused, officers could have simply carried them out of the street.
The police are charged with protecting public safety. Causing bruises and bleeding, and risking broken bones or worse, grossly endangered the public. It also escalated the situation by provoking extreme anger among the onlookers. It’s amazing that a riot didn’t ensue.
An article in the next day’s Seattle Times indicated that “No injuries were reported.” Since an SPD medic treated an injured man, the police know full well that at least one injury had occurred. Did the SPD withhold this information from reporters?
The police assault seemed intended to send a message that people who engage in acts of peaceful protest do so at their own risk. These are the tactics of a police state, not a democracy.
Jean Fallow lives in Bellingham, Washington. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org