We have several reports this morning of the Seattle Police Department's use of pepper spray around the pride celebrations last night. The first comes from Capitol Hill Seattle blog:
Using a heavy presence of uniformed officers on the street and with SWAT teams at the ready, Seattle's East Precinct clamped down on an annual Pride weekend demonstration early Sunday morning, putting an end to the Capitol Hill march by hitting the crowd with pepper sprayand taking six people into custody on E Madison.
Video of the incident sent by a Slog tipper:
And another tipper describes the scene:
I was near the intersection of E. Pike St. and E. Madison when I saw excessive force used by the Seattle Police Department against an unarmed white female sitting on top of a male's shoulders. Pepper spray was used against this woman from a short distance covering, until this point, the entirely nonviolent crowd as well as the police officers in an oxygen smothering burn. She then was grabbed and pulled to the ground while covering her face. The officers pulled the woman off of the sidewalk and into the street and handcuffed her. She was placed into a a vehicle and ultimately driven away. I am not sure what happened to her. If she was let go? If she was arrested? If she is unable to communicate with any of her people?
I do know that what I saw tonight is unlike anything I have ever seen before. I went through Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. I have seen violence over my life. But what I saw tonight is egregious. It was crazy to see this tiny girl with her pink stockings on with a mini skirt laid out on the ground having physically protected police drag her across the concrete to handcuff her, while no other violence was taking place. What? This little fucking girl was such a threat you had to spray her off one of her friends shoulders, and drag her into handcuffs?
More after the jump.
What took place tonight was unnecessary. I understand that these cops were somewhat provoked by a group walking down the middle of the street after hours. However there was no traffic around. No matter what the media may say, there was no traffic impended by this group. They swooped their cars in and pinched the group from the front and rear. Tensions were obviously high on the law enforcement's side, hastily they pointed everyone to the side walk. The resistance the cops encountered when they opened their car doors to a group of protesters would get anyone's adrenaline pumping. However, by singling out and attacking a small girl is uncalled for. I wonder if it was a 'let's make an example out of her sort of thing'.
You should have seen them after. The blocked off the street from sidewalk across to sidewalk. Waiting for a move. This one cop was one of only a few with his billy club drawn. He would occasionally hit it into his other hand with a snide look on his face. Almost like he was hoping someone would make a false move.
An e-mail to the SPD this morning was not immediately returned.
UPDATE: The SPD Blotter has posted a new entry that chronicles the events of the night from the officers' perspective, saying that "anarchists" had dragged garbage cans into the street, used verbally abusive language, and, at one point, kicked a commander in the knee. So that explains the use pepper spray, they claim. (Readers may also recall that Pride-weekend demonstrations in the past have resulted in some property damage.)
But to state the obvious for a second, pepper spray is a weapon. And an imprecise weapon at that, which the SPD has a record using egregiously and sloppily in crowded environments. In its critical report last December, the US Department of Justice blasted the SPD's pepper-spray use as an example of excessive force in numerous cases. In particular, police officers used pepper spray in instances where lesser force would suffice. Now the DOJ is pressing the city into a court agreement specifically to temper its longstanding pattern of excessive force.
Was pepper spray an appropriate use of force in this instance? I can't say. But it appears as hair-trigger and slapdash as the SPD's awful record.