On May 1, while walking along Olive Way in downtown Seattle at about 3 p.m., I heard the now common sounds of anarchists and their followers chanting, beating pans and making noise. This crowd comes down off Capitol Hill on Pine Street doing damage to our city’s property, our citizens and their peaceful enjoyment of an evening. As a 35-year downtown resident, the din raised no alarm, only tired resignation to one more demonstration of the gang’s inattention to comity, civics and productive dissent, and the Seattle City Council’s failure of leadership.
When I reached the Olive Way and Seventh Avenue intersection, the group had reached midblock on Seventh, perhaps 50 or 60 of them moving the wrong direction on the one-way street, tying up traffic, and strutting and chanting as gangs do, and throwing the city’s temporary no parking signs into the street. They were dressed almost identically in black, with tight hoods and face coverings that looked silly and juvenile, as though they were playing dress-up ninja characters as they once did on Halloween.
The City Council fostered this. It allows it to continue, as some members appear to believe in this misguided concept of democracy. Where is the liberal, inclusive, productive change we need? The council has failed that test, and it tells me our city has been seriously misserved.
As I stood on the corner to watch the gang pass, a miracle happened. From behind and ahead on Seventh Avenue, and from each side on Olive Way, a phalanx of Seattle police arrived on bicycles, many bicycles, maybe as many as 40 bicycles, followed by police SUVs, one equipped with a loudspeaker. I am as aware and concerned as council members are with the problems of policing in America, but I was truly proud of the Seattle police on that day and their impressive coordination, control and restraint. The voice that came over the loudspeaker was threat-free, well-spoken, calm and rational. As the gang reached the bicycle barrier set up by the officers, the group was reminded that their actions in several instances were unlawful, and it was time for them to disburse.
As this disruption played out one more time, I am left to ask, where is the council’s voice in this expensive behavior? Where is its leadership?
In the moments that followed, the police quickly, calmly and non-violently controlled the marchers. Perhaps a few were arrested, but if that happened, it did so in under two or three minutes. The great majority of the gang was simply kept from closing in as a pack by the row of bicycles. I watched at least a dozen spray cans come from the pockets of marchers but just as quickly disappear as it became clear that their bravado and group strength had been taken from them by the professional actions of the police.
It was like watching a playground bully discovering that his bluff had been called, when the pack which gave him strength no longer had his back. And that’s when the telephones came out, dozens of them, in a failed attempt to record police misconduct. It said something about the cowardice of confrontational disobedience in Seattle, and foremost for me was the lack of a moral center in all this nonsense. Like the actions of our City Council over the last several years, it was nothing but counterproductive costumed performance art.
As a longtime Seattle resident, I have stood up for many calls for change, and my support for it continues. But the City Council’s direction in this overlong drama has been misguided and derelict, pitting the city against itself rather than solving problems, and it will be its undoing. One member will be recalled. Most of the rest will be voted out of office as unnecessarily confrontational, closed-minded, self-absorbed and ineffective. It will take more than one election cycle, but that loss at the polls is as certain as is the stain the members have brought upon their reputations and our city. They have forgotten the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and of Gandhi, and it will be their undoing. Shame on the pack of them.