A year after chaos, Seattle police say they are ready for May Day

Seattle Times staff reporter

One year after a May Day demonstration erupted in vandalism and caught Seattle police ill-prepared, the Police Department says it has learned from its mistakes and is ready to respond to problems when marchers return to the streets for Wednesday’s events.

Capt. Chris Fowler, who has been assigned to oversee this year’s planning, said Monday he was given a clear directive from the police brass about a month ago: Allow peaceful marchers to exercise their free-speech rights but be prepared to arrest people who commit crimes against people or property.

That message got muddled last year, when planning didn’t begin until a week before May Day and officers were sporadically deployed, with conflicting messages regarding when they could use force to stop violence.

As a result, police found themselves undermanned when dozens of violent protesters, including black-clad anarchists, broke away from a midday march, smashing windows at the William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse, businesses and cars in the downtown core.

Assistant Chief Mike Sanford became a lightning rod for some critics when he bolted on his own in civilian clothing to make an arrest — forcing officers to come to his rescue and use force when he tripped and found himself surrounded by hostile protesters.

While no one was hurt, the business-oriented Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), upset at the police response, called for a thorough review.

The department responded with two reviews, one internal and another by a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, but they were only released April 2 after delays.

This year, police are preparing for a 1:30 p.m. rally at Judkins Park in South Seattle, followed by a march to the downtown Henry M. Jackson Federal Building beginning at 3:30 p.m.


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OLYMPIA — The countdown to May Day is on.

Local police are hoping for the best, and planning for the worst.

CAPITOL photoAt a small coffee shop on 5th and Water in downtown Olympia, protesters, some who consider themselves anarchists, gathered for a strategy session… May Day planning, but they didn’t let the media in and declined to send somebody out to talk with us.

We did talk with Mark McElroy across the street.

He’s not a protester but he supports their right to do so.

“I think it’s important for people to have the right to protest.  That’s one of the cornerstones of American democracy is protest so I think that’s a valuable component of being an American citizen,” Mark McElroy said.

Valuable component as long as it doesn’t go too far.

Police fear the violence that erupted in Seattle last year.

“Peaceful protests are fine. Our concern is a criminal element getting mixed up in legitimate protests and causing trouble and for those folks we want them to know that won’t be tolerated,” Olympia Police department spokesperson Laura Wohl said.