WTO Protest Anniversary Turns Ugly

They marched, they danced and chanted — and then it got ugly.

When 100 demonstrators refused to disperse Thursday night, police used pepper spray and began arresting participants who were marking the anniversary of the riotous protests that stalled World Trade Organization meetings here last year.

The commemoration that had begun with a quiet and lighthearted tone disintegrated as, according to police, a number of protesters threw rocks and bottles, as well as carried bottles of gasoline. One police captain was injured in the eye by a thrown object.

As many as 75 people, including an Associated Press reporter, were arrested.

“Police did issue three orders to disperse the crowd blocking the street, three separate orders to disperse,” city spokesman Larry Vogel said. “And then they moved the crowd.”

Not as Chaotic as Last Year

Even so, the demonstrations weren’t as chaotic as last year when 50,000 protesters crammed into downtown and shut down WTO sessions as overwhelmed police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. There were some 600 arrests and $3 million in property damage. Police Chief Norm Stamper later retired.

The disturbances followed a day of peaceful demonstrations by some 2,000 people marked by only a handful of arrests and hailed by organizers as a success.

“Everything was fine up until about 8 o’clock,” said Randy Trefethern, a legal observer of the protests for the National Lawyers Guild. He spoke early today by telephone from a King County Jail cell.

He contended that police arrested a protester rolling a cigarette, mistaking it for marijuana, “and that set the crowd off. Things became very tense after that.”

“They pushed us down the street and ultimately blocked us in,” said Legrand Jones, another legal observer arrested late Thursday. “They ordered us to disperse, but there was nowhere for us to disperse.”

AP Reporter Arrested

Gene Johnson, an Associated Press reporter who was arrested with the protesters, also said a police lieutenant ordered protesters several times to disperse although they were hemmed on four sides by police. Johnson was released on personal recognizance early Friday after being charged with pedestrian interference and failure to disperse.

“This is a small number of people who were absolutely not content unless they provoked a confrontation,” Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske told KIRO-TV.

The violence and arrests were a blemish on what activists earlier had described as a joyful commemoration of the last year’s protests.

“There was no tear gas, hardly any arrests, no destruction. This was a triumph of civil society,” John Foss, an organizer of the commemoration, said earlier in the day.

Protesters briefly blocked streets for afternoon marches and gathered in Westlake Park — scene of several hundred arrests last year — for an impromptu festival of drumming, barbecued tofu dogs and chanting at police and the absent WTO. The police chief even provided a motorcycle escort for a cardboard anniversary cake that was carried to the park by about a half-dozen activists.

About 300 people held a separate rally and later marched downtown to join the celebration. Marijuana smoke wafted through this crowd, which included members of the Seattle Lesbian Avengers with slogans on their nude upper bodies: “End corporate greed” and “WTO hurts this vegan body.”

Activists and academics describe the Seattle WTO protests as the watershed event in a worldwide anti-globalization movement that seeks to make corporations more answerable to local communities and give debt relief to poor countries.