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  • AH
  • May Day, circa 2013.

It's all good, nothing to see here. That was the message of Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey and Assistant Chief Chris Fowler this afternoon in a hearing on preparations for May Day, traditionally a day of protest against injustice towards workers and immigrants that's been marred by violence for the past two years.

"I get the impression that we are ready as a city," said City Council member Bruce Harrell, after a short and tepid questioning of the two police commanders. "We do realize that people have a right to protest and march, but anarchists that are trying to harm people and property—we have to be aggressive and constitutional at the same time. So I'm very confident we've learned from lessons past. Thank you for being willing to answer all the questions."

Harrell began by asking Bailey to explain what lessons police—currently under pressure to enact reforms after the Justice Department found its officers are routinely more violent than necessary—have learned from the past. Bailey was brief. He said they looked at the recommendations of the Hillman report (PDF) and the 2013 after-action report, "to start this process."

But Bailey didn't say what those recommendations are or how they're being implemented, and Harrell didn't ask. Seattle police have also touched base with downtown business owners and organizers of the pro-immigrant march, Bailey said, but he didn't say what they're being advised to do.

A transparency activist, Phil Mocek, urged the council in the public comment period to scrutinize the police closely: Of those pepper sprayed, he asked, "How many were arrested for the wrongdoing that led the police to use weapons on them? And how many were convicted in the courts?"

The council, most of which was absent from the hearing, didn't do that. Instead, Harrell asked, "Let's say the three of us are anarchists and we've crossed the line and are doing bad things. This fourth person is standing there and not doing anything. How do the officers navigate through that? This person, one could argue, still has a right to be there."

Seattle police pepper-spraying protesters during last years May Day demonstrations.
  • Seattle police pepper-spraying protesters during last year's May Day demonstrations.
Fowler assured him that crowds are given ample warning to disperse and that officers are trained to be aware, "When you deploy these items in a riot situation, you have to understand that there's people around who aren't involved."

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Sally Bagshaw, arriving late, asked whether SPD has the same plans for this year as they did last year. "Yes," Fowler said.

Last year, however, I got lightly pepper sprayed while filming (and dodging the stuff) downtown, Publicola reporter Erica Barnett got a dose to the face, and I saw police mace protesters not in self defense or to stop protesters from committing crimes but merely to gain their compliance—something the Hillman report specifically recommends against.

At one point, Harrell said, "When we've had to use pepper spray or chemical weapons—hopefully we will not have to use any—many of them were not anarchists." Memo to Harrell: One of my mild-mannered journalism professors in college was an anarchist. There are teachers, students, programmers, nonprofit staffers, restaurant workers and people of all stripes in Seattle who identify as anarchists. Being an anarchist, last I checked, doesn't make you a criminal or automatically qualified to be pepper sprayed by police.