Police did more harm than good
Progressive Student Alliance
Last week, tens of thousands of people went to Seattle to peacefully protest the erosion of democracy and the resulting increase in corporate power. Both of which are veiled under the rhetoric of "free trade" or "globalization" and are being promoted by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Thousands of people wanted to show the world that we would not stand aside as corporations are given the right to sue and prevent governments from enacting laws protecting the environment, labor and human rights. The WTO submits the laws of our nation, our state and our city to the rulings of an un-elected body. So how did the police react in this land of milk and "democracy?" The police rioted. They used tear gas in abundance, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.
Yes, RUBBER BULLETS. A friend of mine was hit with one. One activist got shot in the head.
The WTO talks started on Tuesday. So that day thousands of people protested, blockading the building where the meeting was and the delegates' hotel. The protesters locked-down and delayed the meeting, but the police used tear gas and had to leave. That day the AFL-CIO organized the largest protest with 50,000 people. That night the mayor declared a state of emergency, a 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. curfew, a 46 block no-protest zone and made it illegal to sell or carry a gas mask.
That evening some anarchists damaged property, explicitly targeted corporations with harmful human rights and environmental policies (McDonalds). The anarchists' argument was if corporations are using their property to, say, support the military dictatorship in Burma (which many are) — would it not be better for their property to be destroyed? The media completely overplayed the property damage which was caused by 0.5 percent of the protesters (a 100 people), and small-scale criminal activity compared to murder, rape, assault, etc. Can you compare breaking windows, spraying graffiti and setting dumpsters on fire to using tear gas on a 70-year-old woman? And it wasn't just tear gas or one 70-year-old woman. The police were the real rioters. During the next two days, people disobeyed the no-protest zone, were assaulted with gas again and 500-600 were arrested and held in jails for three days.
The protesters caused the WTO talks to fail. According to the media, the talks ended in disaster. It helped that Clinton is trying to regain the support of the AFL-CIO, who organized part of the protests, so that Gore will win in 2000. Here are some first-hand accounts from protesters that I received by e-mail.
Police have been beating with riot sticks peaceful protesters who sat or laid on the ground. They have taken protesters who were wearing facemasks, covered the inside of the mask with pepper spray and forced it back onto the person's face. They dragged an elderly woman across the ground by her hair and an arm. They've shot rubber bullets at ranges of a few feet and one officer pulled a real gun on protesters before other officers restrained him. In addition, police have not been arresting protesters to any extent — I heard 18 arrests the whole day — they have simply been attacking us. (Louise Auerhahn, Stanford student, referring to Tuesday's events) Just an update on what is happening here. About 2,000 people risked arrest yesterday in lockdowns or in barricades or in street theatre but very few were arrested. There were 78 arrests Monday, mostly in relation to the rioters ... You may all have seen the supposed "violence" by some of the protesters. Let's get one thing straight: police start riots. Police incite violence. Police use tear gas, guns, wooden bullets, billy clubs, tanks (yes, they had armored vehicles) and that is who is perpetrating violence in Seattle.
A number of times they had these 100 or so anarchists caught between buildings and walls of police. They could easily have arrested and detained this small number of people and gotten it over with. Instead they would gas them and let them go. Then trap them again, use gas against them again and again let them go. The cops made no arrests (that I know of) until late Tuesday night though the skirmishing was going on from 3:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
The police were using these people as extras. It was staged. I believe also the police had their own people in there, encouraging people to break stuff — if people think I am exaggerating, I saw supposed protesters screaming. Later, when everything was over, the same people tackled other protesters and put handcuffs on them.
At 6 p.m., they issued a state of emergency. At that point, they had pushed the 100 people outside the city limits, so the police went outside the limits too, and they started using gas in that area, spraying gas in the neighborhoods where the regular people live. I am not exaggerating. The police were relentless.
I was sitting in a little coffee shop called Rauhaus. They were shooting "rubber" bullets at the glass. I picked up a dozen of the things in a few square feet. They were also shooting this paint that you can only see with a florescent light. They would paint anyone and everyone and then go hunt for them.
Aaron Krieder ia a sociology graduate student and president of the Progressive Student Alliance. He received the information for this column from a Portland student, Jim Desyllas.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, December 7, 1999