Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole talked with shop owners and residents about the May Day protests and the city’s efforts to keep the peace.
Seattle police were surprised by how quickly a Friday evening May Day march erupted into violence, but were prepared to move as soon as it occurred, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Saturday.
Police seized a machete, a hammer, rocks, a battery, two heavy wooden poles and a wrench in making 16 arrests during clashes with demonstrators on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
Three officers were treated at Harborview Medical Center, one for a dislocated shoulder, another for a broken wrist and a third for burns to a leg and ankle, according to a news release on the department’s website late Friday.
Police posted photographs of the seized items on the website, including images of wooden poles with metal bolts inserted into them.
Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler described Friday evening’s protesters as a “lot more aggressive” than those who participated in the same anti-capitalist march the past two years.
A larger crowd than in the past appeared at the outset of the event, marked by “rhetoric” and “prepping” that suggested the potential for problems, Fowler said.
The march, which followed peaceful immigration-rights and “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations earlier in the day, descended into violence within an hour of starting at Seattle Central College.
As the group reached Broadway and East Howell Street, protesters began damaging businesses, homes and vehicles, including the smashing of windows, police said.
About 7:30 p.m., officers ordered the crowd, which did not have a permit for the march, to disperse, and tried to clear the street.
Protesters hurled rocks, bottles, bricks and other projectiles at officers, who fired pepper spray and detonated blast balls loaded with pepper spray to disperse what the department described as an “increasingly violent crowd.”
The projectiles included flaming objects, said O’Toole, who was overseeing her first May Day since being appointed to the post in June.
Fowler said the march took a turn when some bike officers assembled in a line were hit with sticks and one officer fell to the ground.
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“There were definitely some very aggressive attacks on police,” O’Toole said, noting that a review will be conducted.
All of the injured officers were released from the hospital, she said.
O’Toole said she visited the officers at the hospital, joined by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, City Council President Tim Burgess and Frank Montoya Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office.
Some demonstrators pushed barricades and trash cans into the street and grabbed items from a fenced construction site to burn in the street, police said.
Officers in riot gear and on bikes swarmed the melee, overwhelming and fragmenting protesters, many of whom wore black clothes and masks sometimes associated with anarchists.
Police arrested 15 men and one woman on suspicion of various offenses, including assault, obstruction and failure to disperse.
Among them was a man taken into custody after a rock was thrown through a window in the 1600 block of Belmont Avenue. He was carrying a soda bottle filled with green paint, a wrench and a machete with the word “death” painted on it, police said.
The crowd dispersed over several hours, leaving behind vandalism at Seattle Central College that occurred in the final stages.
“Out of all the thousands of people who participated yesterday — maybe there were 75 who were disruptive, which is sad because it does undermine the important messages that everybody else had,” O’Toole said Saturday of the daylong events Friday.
She said it was fortunate that officers didn’t suffer more serious injuries, and said she was thankful no protesters were seriously injured.
Overall, O’Toole said, she was pleased with the department’s performance.
Police said all use of force by officers will be examined under policies stemming from a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The agreement resulted from federal findings that officers had engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive forced and displayed troubling, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.
“We had a plan — if people became violent, if people became destructive, then we just needed to shut it down,” O’Toole said. “We were actually surprised that it became violent and destructive so early on. We expected, based on previous years, that most of the serious activity would occur after dark.”
Roughly 370 law-enforcement officers were deployed to deal with the protest and related traffic issues, including officers from South King County police agencies, Bellevue police and the Washington State Patrol, O’Toole said.
Police noticed early on that trouble might occur.
Seattle Police Lt. Jim Arata, on a bicycle on the college plaza, pointed to a group of masked and black-clad young people passing out water bottles — they were apparently anticipating pepper spray — and predicted a busier night.
“On the earlier march, we watched a bunch of them hiding sticks up their sleeves,” he said, referring to a daytime demonstration downtown. “They aren’t here to protest. They’re here to do battle.”
Police were prepared to allow the demonstrators to march peacefully throughout the night, including into downtown like in past years, O’Toole said.
On Saturday morning, O’Toole joined Murray in a walk along Broadway to talk to residents and business operators.
Nick Nazar, owner of Phoenix Comics & Games, said he appreciated the visit and the police presence Friday night.
His store is open until midnight on Friday nights, and during the march he had about 18 people inside for a “Magic: The Gathering” tournament.
“It was reassuring to know we had protection,” he said after Murray and O’Toole stopped by his shop Saturday morning. “We were nervous when the crowds passed by twice. There were mass amounts of people streaming by, but the police were flanking them with bikes, ensuring they kept together.”
Damage on Capitol Hill was mostly contained to the area around Broadway.
Six windows and a door were broken at Urban Outfitters, as well as windows next door at QFC.
Considering the violence, Murray said, he was surprised there was not more destruction. He was saddened, however, by the vandalism at Seattle Central College.
“Why were they destroying a public school and art?” he said, referring in part to a sculpture that was spray-painted and struck with objects.
“To me, that feels like something we are reading about in the papers in other parts of the world, not in Seattle,” Murray said.
As Murray and O’Toole walked on Broadway, people thanked and congratulated them, shaking their hands. It also happened to be Murray’s birthday, so many said, “Happy Birthday.”
Murray activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday to provide any additional support that might be needed, and to coordinate the response to potential traffic impacts for events and marches Saturday.
Marches on Saturday afternoon, tied to “Black Lives Matter” and a rally in Baltimore, wound their way through South Seattle and the area near Garfield High School. There were some brief traffic tie-ups.
The Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement after Friday evening’s events, condemning what it called the harassment of its observers by police. Two were struck by police rubber bullets, including one who was temporarily arrested, the organization said.