After a year of several large and occasionally violent local protests, Seattle police say they’re ready for Friday’s May Day events.
After a year of several large, and occasionally violent, protests, Seattle police say they’re confident in the tactics they’ll use during May Day events later this week.
Police Capt. Chris Fowler said Monday the department is monitoring the situation in Baltimore, where riots over the death of Freddie Gray, while in police custody, prompted the Maryland governor to declare a state of emergency there.
“We take a lot of inputs and look at a lot of what is going on, both nationally and locally, to look at our staffing and see if our tactics are still applicable, and I think it all is,” said Fowler, commander of the downtown West Precinct.
Fowler said the department is aware of three planned May Day events. He didn’t provide specifics on police staffing but said no officers will be allowed to take the day off unless a request was submitted early in the year.
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A Black Lives Matter event is scheduled for 10:25 a.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, 2200 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.
The annual May Day March for Workers and Immigrant Rights, sponsored by El Comite and the May 1 Action Coalition, begins at 2 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 611 20th Ave. S., and will end with a rally at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle at 700 Stewart St. Organizers estimate “thousands of workers and immigrant-rights supporters” will attend.
“In the spirit of unity and solidarity with communities across the country, organizers in Seattle will continue with the central theme of justice for immigrant workers, as well as justice for marginalized communities at the local, national, and international levels,” El Comite organizers wrote in a news release.
A non-permitted protest, billed as an anti-capitalist march, has been advertised on anarchists’ websites to start at 6 p.m. Friday near Seattle Central College at Broadway and East Pine Street on Capitol Hill.
A few hundred protesters at a similar event marched through Seattle streets late into the evening last year, and 10 people were arrested.
Police won’t know the route of the evening march in advance but said it looks as if it will mirror previous years. Last year, officers allowed the protesters to walk a circuitous route through downtown and back up to Capitol Hill.
“With the exception of this additional event at MLK Park in the morning, it’s pretty much looking like what we have seen (in the past,)” Fowler said.
Fowler, in his third year as May Day incident commander, said the department has met with immigration-march organizers, who have been working with those involved in last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Fowler said the department has learned from its experience responding to the protests over police brutality. During a Nov. 24 protest, demonstrators shut down a portion of Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle.
Police will try to prevent that from happening Friday, Fowler said.
“Each year it’s a little bit different, and we certainly don’t want to get complacent in thinking ‘last year went fine, this year should be no problem,’ ” Fowler said.
One difference this year is May 1 falls on Friday, when more people will be in the area. The events may bleed into Seattle’s nightlife and cause more traffic issues than in previous years, Fowler said.
Still, he said, non-participants shouldn’t feel they need to avoid downtown.
“Ninety percent of the day, you should be able to walk around,” Fowler said.
The Police Department was criticized for being ill-prepared and undermanned during May Day 2012, when groups of anarchists broke windows, threw fire bombs and vandalized the William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. District Courthouse.
At the time, officers said they received conflicting orders about when to engage protesters, how to make arrests and when to employ force
Police have been better prepared for the past two May Days. In 2013, 17 people were arrested. In both years, officers used pepper spray and bike officers as crowd-control measures.