The election of President Donald Trump could add fuel to the protests planned for May Day, including the March for Workers and Immigrant Rights, which is expected to draw thousands.
May Day is shaping up like others in recent years, with a massive daytime march that historically has been mostly peaceful and the usual prospect of violence and vandalism in the evening.
But there’s a major difference this year: the election of President Donald Trump.
Trump’s get-tough immigration policies are expected to add fuel to Monday’s 18th annual March for Workers and Immigrant Rights that begins with a rally at Judkins Park in South Seattle and concludes with the walk to Seattle Center.
Oscar Rosales Castañeda, a spokesman for the organizing group El Comité, which is also calling for a general strike, said he expects a larger, more intense crowd in light of Trump’s “overzealous” efforts to roll back women’s reproductive rights, LGBQT gains, collective bargaining and immigration rights.
“It’s been a rough couple months, but it’s almost here,” he said of the rally and march, which will be preceded by a morning veterans anti-war rally in downtown Seattle and march to Judkins Park.
Those events are expected to be granted city permits.
No permits, as usual, have been issued for evening activities, including marches billed as anti-capitalist and anti-fascist events. It’s unclear whether Trump’s election will ratchet up those demonstrations.
Unlike the last few years, no central gathering spot has been advertised. Instead, multiple meeting locations around the city have been listed on social media and online, creating confusion — possibly deliberate — for the police.
“That’s kind of the challenge,” said Seattle police Capt. Chris Fowler, who will be the incident commander, a job he’s handled for several years.
Among the sites that have been mentioned as possible gathering points are Judkins Park, Cal Anderson Park, the Space Needle, the King County Juvenile Detention Center, Victor Steinbrueck Park near the Pike Place Market and the University of Washington.
Fowler said he expects the protesters to ultimately coalesce at one location through the use of social media, possibly at the detention facility because of controversy over the construction of a new youth courthouse and jail.
He said police will be ready to respond.
Last year, violence quickly erupted, with some in the crowd shooting off Roman candles and other fireworks, while a window was shattered at a Starbucks at Westlake Center.
Police herded a mob of several hundred black-clad protesters out of Seattle’s business district, using a choreographed rolling blockade of bicycle officers and vans to shuttle cops in riot gear ahead of the crowd to cut off escape routes.
Before the night was over, the protesters had been marched out of downtown and into the city’s Sodo industrial area, where fewer potential targets for destruction were available.
The protest also introduced Molotov cocktails to the mix of projectiles — sticks, bottles and rocks — that are routinely hurled at officers and journalists, with one officer suffering burn injuries, Fowler said at a recent media briefing. Five officers were injured and nine people were arrested.
The use of gasoline-filled glass bottles set alight, coupled with concerns firearms could be fired into large crowds of people, has prompted Seattle police to incorporate such eventualities into training for this year’s protest, Fowler said.
“Any act of violence is really the point where we have to assess what the crowd is doing. We’ve seen innocent people hurt time and time again … We always have a few injuries to the media, the general population and officers,” he said.
While officers are there to facilitate and keep safe people exercising their First Amendment rights, police say the crowd’s actions ultimately determine what tactics officers will use to answer any violence or property damage.
“We always take our cues from the crowd,” Fowler said. “We always plan on, ‘If this happens, that happens.’ The crowd always has a vote in how this happens.”
Blast balls “are only used once a protest turns violent,” said Lt. Marc Garth Green, a bicycle-unit commander who is also the instructor for the use of blast balls.
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The devices, which detonate with a loud noise and a bright light, are used to create separation between officers and protesters who turn violent, he said.
Their use has generated controversy, with police insisting blast balls deter “hands-on” confrontations and baton use with protesters. A 2015 report by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability noted the blast balls were not always detonated in open areas and away from people.
Last week, dozens of bicycle officers participated in a training session inside a huge warehouse at Terminal 5 on Harbor Island.
Central to the training is teaching multiple squads of bike cops to work together as a team. Each squad has 10 officers and is led by a sergeant or lieutenant:
Bicycle officers are always on the front line during large demonstrations like May Day and manage the flow of pedestrians and traffic, said Sgt. Jim Dyment, who is assigned to a West Precinct bicycle unit.
Bikes are also routinely used as barriers “to separate individuals who are having problems,” he said. “We play off individuals’ actions more than anything.”
For the evening hours, businesses are being warned to retrieve outdoor signs or other objects from sidewalks; to close and lock dumpsters; and secure trash and recycle materials, including bottles or flammable materials.
Traffic disruptions also should be expected.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, in a February article in a Socialist publication, called for May Day strikes and “peaceful civil disobedience that shuts down highways, airports, and other key infrastructure.”
The Washington State Patrol responded by issuing a news release this week stressing “freeways are no place for protests, and calls for protesters to block the freeway system is simply reckless and irresponsible.”
In the release, Capt. Ron Mead said: “The Washington State Patrol respects the rights of citizens to engage in civil protests and other acts of civil disobedience. However, any actions taken by an unauthorized person or persons to shut down a federal interstate highway system would be dangerous and irresponsible behavior that could cause serious and/or fatal injuries to involved protesters and unassuming highway users.”
Mead said troopers will arrest those who attempt to block the freeway.
When asked this week whether she still supports shutdowns of highways and airports, Sawant’s email reply was less specific.
“Throughout history, working people have only won social change — for workplace, women’s, immigrant, and other civil and political rights — through mass movements, nonviolent civil disobedience, and collective strike action,” she wrote.”
At a news briefing Thursday, Sawant said, “The march route does not include any freeways and, as a movement, we stand together in advocating for peaceful and nonviolent protest actions,” according to KING-TV.