As in years past, a march for immigrant and workers rights will highlight the May Day events in Seattle. What has happened afterward in past years has Seattle police preparing for possible violence. “It’s just hard to know which way it’s going to go.”
There are a few things that mark the arrival of spring in Seattle: unpredictable weather, the pink poofs of cherry blossoms along Lake Washington and, more recently, the sound of breaking windows and blast balls on May Day.
The annual celebration of labor, immigrant rights and free speech — with the occasional dip into anarchy and vandalism — is Tuesday, with police and labor leaders hoping for a repeat of last year’s relatively quiet exercise, where nobody was hurt, no property damaged and the number of arrests were counted on one hand.
May Day March for Immigrant and Workers Rights
2:30 p.m. Tuesday: Marchers will gather and rally at Judkins Park, 2150 S. Norman St., Seattle.
3:30 p.m.: The group will march to downtown Seattle.
What police fear, though, is a repeat of 2012, when so-called black bloc protesters blended in with a peaceful immigration march to wreak havoc downtown, attacking the federal courthouse and retailers. Police were caught flat-footed, and there were injuries, extensive property damage and numerous arrests.
This is the 19th consecutive May Day that pro-immigration and workers forces will rally and march in Seattle, with hundreds expected. Juan Jose Bocanegra, co-chair of the organizing group May 1 Action Committee for El Comité, said the group has been peaceful in the past and will be this year.
Bocanegra condemned anyone who tries to co-opt the May Day March for Immigrant and Workers Rights for violent ends.
“We are peaceful and always have been,” he said. “We have families, children and elders. This is a constitutionally protected activity.”
El Comité, a social-justice organization, is sponsoring a rally at Judson Park starting at 2:30 p.m., followed by a march down South Jackson Street to the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle an hour later.
Last year — despite rising tensions following the election of President Donald Trump and his get-tough immigration policies — the whole affair turned into something of a lovefest, encapsulated in the moment when members of a group of pro-Trump “Proud Boys” passed around a “peace joint” with anti-fascist demonstrators. The only thing missing was a verse or two of “Kumbaya.”
There were just five arrests and no injuries or property damage in Seattle. The violence, it seemed, had migrated south to Olympia and Portland, where riots erupted.
“It’s just hard to know which way it’s going to go,” said Seattle Police Deputy Chief Chris Fowler, who has overseen the department’s May Day response over the past several years.
Expect officers in riot gear and roving squads of bicycle officers who, in the past, have been used as rolling barriers to herd the crowd away from businesses. In 2015, they deftly herded a large and unruly group to a parking lot miles south of the downtown core, where it fizzled and dispersed.
“I expect our tactics will be consistent with how we’ve done this in the past,” Fowler said. “We may have to adjust according to the situation, but I don’t think we’ll be doing anything different this year.”
In the past, that has included the use of so-called “blast balls” and pepper spray to disperse crowds that become unruly. Some injuries have occurred in the past, and in 2012 the department was criticized for not having clear procedures for engaging the crowd.
Lawbreakers, Fowler said, will be arrested.
This year, the anarchists are calling for “decentralized” actions, with smaller independent groups and individuals being asked to disperse and gather at institutions citywide.
“Obviously, if that occurs it could be a headache,” Fowler said. But he said similar calls by the anarchists last year failed to materialize.
May Day has traditionally been a celebration of workers’ rights and is a day of mostly peaceful protests and celebrations. It marks the date of the Haymarket riots of 1886, when industrial workers in Chicago went on strike.
In recent history, pro-labor movements across the United States have used May 1 to demonstrate for better wages and working conditions. In recent years, the day has been used by groups to call for immigration reform.