The LEIU is an umbrella group for 240 law enforcement agencies around the globe that swap info on everything from gangs to organized crime to terrorists to protest groups. Agencies like the Seattle Police Department pay $495 in dues for access to the LEIU's information network ["Watching the LEIU," Amy Jenniges, May 15; In Other News, April 10].
While protesters, mostly teens and twentysomethings sporting bandanna masks, milled around the plaza waiting to march, a thirtysomething ACLU spokesperson lectured about the LEIU's suspect setup: Funded by public police dollars, the organization claims to be serving the public interest, facilitating anticrime and antiterrorism intelligence work, but it simultaneously identifies itself as a private organization to sidestep public-records requests about its work. Activists believe the LEIU's work includes tracking legal political activity--which, in fact, the group was busted for in the past.
Activists on hand wore shirts sarcastically emblazed with "Dangerous Terrorist" logos while others toted around pig paraphernalia. Eventually, about 700 protesters marched to the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue between Pike and Union Streets--where over two dozen cops had set up a metal barricade and stood in the hotel's plaza. (Lots of backup cops in black fatigues milled about on the perimeter, some on bikes and horses.)
The Infernal Noise Brigade, a dadaist agitprop staple at Seattle protests, kept up a drum beat, while activists shimmied and waved flags: American flags, black anarchy flags, and blue Not in Our Name flags (left over from the Iraq War protests).
Frankly, I was bored. I had scored limited media access to tomorrow's conference and was interested in what might happen inside when all the spooks and gumshoes got together.
But soon I was jarred to attention. A few protesters busted out lighters and started burning American flags. Protesters took pride in taunting the cops, knowing full well that burning the flag is protected speech. "Burn, baby, burn," they cheered. A few flags resisted the flames, and it took several kids crouched below with lighters fired up to ignite the stubborn material. Suddenly, one flag went up in a flash, leaving an acrid burnt plastic smell behind. People stepped back.
An apparent anarchist in a green sweatshirt and orange bandanna climbed onto the awning of a women's clothing shop, Jaeger, adjacent to the hotel and the cops' barricade. He tried to burn a flag while the crowd cheered. Cops watched stone-faced from the sidewalk as a brass band played "Secret Agent Man." When the flag failed to ignite, he ripped it in half, broke the pole, and tossed the remnants into the crowd.
Then he leaped off the awning. His quick-thinking cohorts shielded him while he switched clothes to avoid detection. A handful of cops immediately tracked him down and pulled him over the barricade, dragging him by his belt into the hotel. He was arrested for reckless burning. (Cops later explained that the protester had been playing with fire too close to private property.)
Flagpoles and other debris started raining down on the police. The cops started pushing protesters south, toward Union Street, and the crowd resisted, drawing streams of pepper spray. Activist medics with Red Cross symbols painted on their foreheads rinsed people's eyes.
The cops kept pushing the crowd away from the hotel, pepper-spraying the protesters, now about 300 strong, down Union, onto Fourth Avenue. The police also started firing rubber bullets, pellets, and finally deafening noise bombs to send folks home. The activists rushed away, heading to the safety of Westlake, upending garbage cans along the way. The activist "medics" attended folks who'd been welted by rubber bullets or doused with spray. About five activists, including a legal observer, wound up at the hospital.
By the time folks reassembled at Westlake just before 9:00 p.m., the crowd was barely over 100. Protesters screamed at the police--who kept their distance from the plaza--promising they'd be back all week to protest the LEIU. (The activists' LEIU Welcoming Committee planned to be at the city council's police committee meeting, to testify about cop tactics and to demand the city sever SPD membership in the LEIU.)
As the Monday-night protest faded, SPD Captain Mike Sanford was swarmed at Westlake by the media. He calmly broke down the night's events--12 arrests--and defended police tactics. "When people start throwing things at the police, we must start moving them," he said. Protesters jockeyed for camera time to refute Sanford, and detail what they deemed police brutality.
Kevin Weaver, a founder of the LEIU Welcoming Committee, stood a few yards away under a tree. "It was largely a success," he said. "We wish it had been nonviolent the whole way, but we got people to come out."
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At 7:30 Tuesday morning, the barricades were still up in front of the hotel. On the third floor, early-bird conference-goers (mostly middle-aged guys in polo shirts and slacks) sipped coffee and picked over a table of bagels and fruit. Soon, the vast Emerald Ballroom was crammed with 500 attendees, who sat at large round tables for the opening ceremony (the only session media were allowed to attend).
Five officers in dress uniform (tassels and all) carried flags to the head of the ballroom, as the crowd stood to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." (No flag burning here.) For the next hour, officials like Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske welcomed the LEIU members. "How often does the LEIU get a parade in your honor?" Kerlikowske joked, referring to the previous night's melee down Fifth Avenue, Fourth Avenue, and Union Street.
Then LEIU chair Dick Wright of Simi Valley, California, took over. "Those demonstrators that came here last night did us a favor," he said. "They raised media awareness [of our organization]." He cued a sleepy slide show presentation on the history of the LEIU.
Soon, the media were ushered out so the training sessions--on everything from tip-management software to global information sharing--could begin.