WTO Protest Anniversary Turns Ugly

S E A T T L E, Dec. 1, 2000 -- They marched, they danced and chanted — and then itgot ugly.

When 100 demonstrators refused to disperse Thursday night,police used pepper spray and began arresting participants who weremarking the anniversary of the riotous protests that stalled WorldTrade 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 threwrocks and bottles, as well as carried bottles of gasoline. Onepolice 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 blockingthe street, three separate orders to disperse,” city spokesmanLarry 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 when50,000 protesters crammed into downtown and shut down WTO sessionsas overwhelmed police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. There weresome 600 arrests and $3 million in property damage. Police ChiefNorm Stamper later retired.

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

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

He contended that police arrested a protester rolling acigarette, mistaking it for marijuana, “and that set the crowdoff. 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 todisperse.”

AP Reporter Arrested

Gene Johnson, an Associated Press reporter who was arrested withthe protesters, also said a police lieutenant ordered protestersseveral times to disperse although they were hemmed on four sidesby police. Johnson was released on personal recognizance earlyFriday after being charged with pedestrian interference and failureto disperse.

“This is a small number of people who were absolutely notcontent unless they provoked a confrontation,” Police Chief GilKerlikowske told KIRO-TV.

The violence and arrests were a blemish on what activistsearlier had described as a joyful commemoration of the last year’sprotests.

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

Protesters briefly blocked streets for afternoon marches andgathered in Westlake Park — scene of several hundred arrests lastyear — for an impromptu festival of drumming, barbecued tofu dogsand chanting at police and the absent WTO. The police chief evenprovided a motorcycle escort for a cardboard anniversary cake thatwas carried to the park by about a half-dozen activists.

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

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