Throngs are expected for the annual workers and immigrant march that, historically, has been peaceful. That contrasts with separate anti-capitalist protests that, in past years, have erupted in violence.
Just as they have in past years, Seattle police say they will facilitate peaceful demonstrations on May Day on Sunday but will respond to illegal conduct.
The day is shaping up as a mix of protests and a related outdoor rock concert, spanning the Central District to downtown Seattle, along with a Seattle Mariners game, all of which will combine to bring a flood of people and cars into the central city.
The main event — the 2016 May Day March for Workers and Immigrant Rights — has been peaceful and festive.
Throngs are expected to participate in the annual May 1 event, which will, in part, commemorate the 10-year anniversary of large-scale marches in 2006 to protest immigration and border-control legislation that eventually died.
“The struggle for dignity and human rights continues, despite institutional neglect and bipartisan cowardice,” the sponsors, El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition, said in a statement announcing this year’s march.
City officials have approved a permit for the afternoon march that will begin in the Central District and end downtown at the U.S. Courthouse.
Later in the day, the annual anti-capitalist march, which doesn’t have a permit and in the past has generated vandalism and violent acts, is set to begin at 6 p.m. at Westlake Park, rather than its past gathering spot at Seattle Central College on Capitol Hill.
Seattle police will provide traffic control for all events and assist in the movement of people on a day the prospect of warm, sunny weather is likely to produce large turnouts.
Based on past years, skirmishes between officers and demonstrators are a strong possibility during the evening march. Last year, there were 16 arrests on suspicion of various offenses, including assault, obstruction and failure to disperse.
On Facebook, organizers noted the march has “become an annual event where we march in rage against capitalism and the oppressive forces that seek to gentrify our communities and force the poor into everlasting homelessness, or death.”
The post added, “We ask that you wear black in solidarity with our comrades at the march and around the world. We will also have Puget Sound Street Medics on site to handle minor injuries. Be prepared for violent police repression (pepper spray, flash bang grenades, tear gas, beatings, arrests, etc.).”
The post says organizers opted to begin the event at Westlake because police would “trap us” at Seattle Central College, “like they did last year.”
Anarchists from the Puget Sound region have posted information about the march on a website, including a video reprising past violence.
“The last several May Days have crafted a tradition of ‘riotous play’ that continues to bring lived revolt against capitalism and the state to the streets of Seattle,” the post says.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, in a recent interview, said she is a strong proponent of the First Amendment.
“We’ll walk around downtown with people all day long as long as they demonstrate peacefully,” she said, adding, “We just are concerned about people who put police officers in danger, put innocent people in danger or put themselves in danger by acting irresponsibly.”
Lawbreakers will be subject to enforcement, she said.
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O’Toole said she attended recent training of all officers on demonstration management, which is being conducted to reinforce skills and add new techniques expected to be used during May Day.
Lessons learned from last year and advice on training and practices from outside experts working on a department-commissioned report on demonstration management are being incorporated into the planning, O’Toole said.
Some officers, who have been specially designated to use blast balls and similar weapons, are receiving additional training, she said.
In a December report, the Seattle Police Department’s internal watchdog office said the department should re-evaluate how officers use blast balls to disperse crowds during demonstrations.
Evidence showed blast balls “exploded in extremely close proximity to people, not all of whom were engaged in destruction of property or posed a threat to public safety,” said the report signed by Pierce Murphy, the civilian director of the department’s Office of Professional Accountability.
The afternoon workers and immigrant march will be carried out in a “spirit of unity and solidarity with communities across the country,” according to the sponsors.
It will continue the central theme of justice for immigrant workers and an unconditional right to jobs as contributing members of the community, along with justice for social and economically marginalized communities at the local, national and international levels, they say.
A preliminary program will begin at Judkins Park in the Central District at 1 p.m., followed by a march starting between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. The march is set to begin at St. Mary’s Church, 611 20th Avenue S., cross Capitol Hill and end with a rally at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Seattle, 700 Stewart St.
The route should help ease congestion during the late-afternoon exodus of Seattle Mariners fans after Sunday’s ballgame at Safeco Field.
But drivers should be aware of blocked streets in parts of downtown and the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct due to Highway 99 tunnel construction.
Adding to the mix of May Day events is a rock concert scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m at Westlake Park, billed as the Solidarity Musical Festival featuring various bands.