The Seattle Police Department briefed the city council yesterday on its response to May Day protests last Friday. After a day of mostly peaceful protests, police and protesters clashed at an evening anticapitalist march on Capitol Hill. Some protesters threw rocks, shoved dumpsters into the street, and smashed windows, and some cops shot rubber bullets and threw flashbangs into the crowd. Four officers were injured and police made 16 arrests, according to the SPD.
Council Member Bruce Harrell, the council's public safety chair, sharply questioned police commanders Steve Wilske and Chris Fowler about one arrest in particular.
A KOMO helicopter-camera shows a masked protester tossing a traffic cone at Seattle police officers. An officer puts his hand in a blocking motion and it bounces to the side. The march continues. A full 90 seconds later, a police officer rides his bike directly into a chain of Black Bloc members, from behind, and tackles one of them. (If the embedded video below isn't working, watch the whole thing here.)
"Why did that occur?" Harrell asked. "That seemed, from the video, like the first act of violence, the first act of unfairness... It seems like that created the melee."
Fowler and Wilske (who Chief Kathleen O'Toole recently promoted to assistant chief) said the man, Adrien Roques, had assaulted a police officer with the traffic cone. Roques is pleading not guilty to the charge.
"If we're going to practice de-escalation," Harrell said, "that doesn't seem the wisest way to go," referring to SPD's decision to charge into the crowd and arrest Roques. "It just seems a little idiotic to me."
Harrell and Council Member Nick Licata also questioned the police at length about their use of flashbang grenades—what SPD calls "blast balls"—which caused injuries among protesters and at least two reporters.
Licata said SPD's use-of-force manual doesn't appear to have a section on flashbangs. "How do you know you're not going to be hitting someone in the head?" he asked. (The department's blast ball training video explicitly warns against throwing them into crowds.)
"They are used as a distraction device," Wilske responded. "They are not intended to hurt people."
Harrell hinted that SPD should take a hard look at how it handled the protests. He said police build community trust when they "admit where we might have done something wrong... and say we can do better."
SPD's talking point, on its blog and at the council meeting, seemed to be that everyone should chill out, because each instance of use of force, including each thrown flashbang, will be reviewed by its internal Use-of-Force Review Board. Wilske promised to report on its findings to the council.
Nine hours after the council briefing, at 10:58 p.m., police chief Kathleen O'Toole wrote on the department website that she was "shocked and disappointed to hear Councilmember Harrell’s comments... His statements directly contradict the overwhelming, positive feedback the SPD has received from the community in recent days."
But the feedback has not all been positive. "What I saw with the police was very disturbing," said Community Police Commission member Harriet Walden during the public comment session ahead of the council briefing.
Michael Wells, the director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said the Broadway business community was pleased with SPD's response. He sounded a note of caution, though, about the use of tear gas, which he said forced some people to leave their apartments.
Capitol Hill Seattle reported the names and charges related to eight arrests on May Day:
Adrien Roques, 32, pleaded not guilty to assault.
A 23-year-old male was arrested for felony assault.
Diego Miguel, 19, pleaded not guilty to obstruction, and failure to disperse.
Casey Miller, 20, pleaded not guilty to obstruction.
Tobiah Goetz, 27, pleaded not guilty to obstruction.
A 24-year-old male was arrested for felony assault.
Kristopher Watson, 28, pleaded not guilty to obstruction.
Brendan McCormack, 28, pleaded not guilty reckless endangerment.
A 19-year-old male was arrested for felony assault.
Gary Tonks, 24, pleaded not guilty to obstruction and illegal weapons possession.
Austin Larkin, 24, pleaded not guilty to obstruction.
A 21-year-old female was arrested for felony assault.
"In 2014," notes reporter Bryan Cohen, "only three of the ten people arrested were charged in the days following the protest."