As Seattle neared "N30," the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests on Nov. 30, free speech advocates held our collective breath in hopes that the City would "get it right" this time by dealing properly with protest activities. Responding to saber-rattling comments by some officials, the ACLU urged the City to respect free speech rights, and we readied our Web site report form to receive complaints of police misconduct.
On the afternoon of N30, ACLU observers were pleased to see that the City responded with restraint to a peaceful rally of 2,500 people at Westlake Center. Police allowed demonstrators to congregate in the nearby streets instead of taking action that would have escalated the situation.
However, the ACLU is concerned about police actions later in the evening. Police arrested more than 140 individuals, including labor leaders who were attempting to negotiate a dispersal of protesters. Labor leaders and legal observers we spoke to, as well as individuals who filed complaints with us, reported that many arrestees were given no opportunity to disperse and that bystanders were swept up in the arrests.
The Seattle Police Department is compiling an after-action report on the event due for release in late February. We will press for the City Council to examine the handling of N30 protests and will advocate for policies to ensure that police give clear warning and ample opportunity to disperse.
The City has not yet acted on a host of recommendations made by the ACLU as well as its own review panel stemming from mishandling of the WTO protests in 1999. We will continue to keep heat on the City to adopt such reforms as a comprehensive crowd control manual and a moratorium on the use of pepper spray and tear gas. The ACLU's lawsuit challenging the WTO "no protest zone" is moving forward and is expected to go to trial sometime this year.