The Seattle Times: Does peaceful May Day signal Seattle’s no longer in protesters’ bull’s-eye?

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May Day

This article was published in The Seattle Times on May 2, 2017.

By Seattle Times staff

If May Day in Seattle came with a box score, it would look something like this:

Five arrests. No officers injured. Zero property damage.

By any measure, it would represent a win for a city that over the past six years has seen May Day protests erupt in violence, vandalism and numerous arrests.
 This year, Seattle protests drew smaller than expected crowds spread across a half-dozen permitted and unsanctioned events, in one instance producing a loud but largely violence-free verbal clash over differing ideologies in Westlake Park, often the scene of violence in previous years.
Perhaps the day’s most enduring image was the “peace joint” shared between opposing demonstrators along with sips from a can of Pepsi, mocking a controversial ad featuring model and Kardashian clan member Kendall Jenner as a soda-wielding protester.
Contrast that with Olympia and Portland, where May Day protests turned violent as demonstrators pelted police with rocks, set fires and vandalized downtown businesses.

“That’s not political speech,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Tuesday. “That’s crime.”

There was no need for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to issue a similar proclamation about May Day events. Instead, on Tuesday he praised police for helping keep the peace.

“It’s a huge difference than the last few years,” added James Sido, spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association. Business members of the organization have often been targeted by vandals in past May Day protests.

Sido said a wide range of May Day protest activities throughout the city, with smaller groups and different core messages, might have made it difficult for black-clad demonstrators to latch onto to one event as their launch point.

Others might have targeted Olympia and Portland because Seattle police crowd-control tactics have gotten better than in the past, when Seattle was a “bigger bull’s-eye,” Sido said.

Police did a good job handling the two groups that squared off at Westlake over President Donald Trump, said Sido, who noted the “peace joint. ”

“It was pretty remarkable,” he added.

Oscar Rosales Castañeda, a spokesman for the group El Comité, organizers of the annual March for Workers and Immigrant Rights, said last week he expected a larger crowd in light of Trump’s efforts to roll back women’s reproductive rights, LGBQT gains, collective bargaining and immigration rights.

In a Tuesday news release Castañeda conceded May Day’s wet weather impacted the turnout, but claimed the march drew 10,000 people. Many observers said the numbers were far lower, with Murray noting turnout for May Day events was the smallest in his four years as mayor.

Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler, who was in charge of the city’s May Day preparation and response, said police expected about 1,500 people for the immigration rally and march.

On Tuesday, three of the five people arrested during Seattle’s May Day protests were charged with crimes by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, although none involved property damage or assault on a police officer.

Tavner Castle, 36, of Olympia, was charged with assault for allegedly attacking a woman. Nathan Davis, 30, of Seattle, was charged with resisting arrest and possession of an unlawful weapon (a knife). And Joseph Harrison, 51, of Boulder, Colorado, was charged with obstructing a police officer.

Two other men arrested Monday night were released on their personal recognizance while the city attorney’s office reviews the cases against them and decides on criminal charges.

The five were arrested at Westlake Park, where a group claiming to support Trump at time verbally jousted with other protesters. Some pro-Trump demonstrators claimed to be members of “the Proud Boys,” which describes itself as “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Proud Boys as an alt-right “fight club.” Police in the Bay Area blamed its members for the violence that rocked an anti-Trump rally in Berkeley last month.

Fowler, the police captain, singled out the “Proud Boys” as a primary concern for police early in the day, with the potential for what he termed “a crowd-on-crowd threat.” Beyond a few yelling matches, that “crowd-on-crowd” clash never materialized.

Fowler could not be reached Tuesday.

Francis Marion, who said he was part of a group called the American Freedom Keepers, was among those in Westlake. He said his aim was to allow everyone to express their viewpoints.

He said he was prepared for violence. When asked if he was armed, Marion noted that Washington offers concealed-carry permits.

When tensions did flare, police swooped in with bicycles to use as barriers and wooden sticks to push the two sides apart. Occasionally, police would whisk someone away for offenses that weren’t always immediately clear in the undulating crowd.

Police had a heavy presence in Westlake Park during the day’s events.

Kyle Broussard, who said he was a former Marine veteran and current University of Washington student, stepped in several times to play peacemaker, occasionally giving impromptu speeches and bringing people together for hugs.

At one point, protesters on both sides shared a joint.

“I brought Antifa and Conservatives together to smoke weed,” an elated Broussard told a reporter. “I just don’t want violence … regardless of what side you’re on, Americans should not fight each other.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Neal Morton, Evan Bush, Bob Young, Steve Miletich, Mike Carter and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from The Associated Press.