WTO protests net 140 arrests

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske on Friday praised and defended his officers who first watched, then cracked down on demonstrators marking the first anniversary of the World Trade Organization meeting here.

Police arrested 140 people on Thursday, including an Edmonds man.

As of Friday afternoon, nearly a third of those arrested had been released on personal recognizance or bail, said jailhouse facility commander Martha Robbins.

The arrests downtown began after a thrown marble or ball bearing injured a police captain’s eye and officers reported seeing people throwing rocks and bottles. The captain was treated at a hospital and released.

Five of those arrested were being held on felony charges, including an Edmonds man being investigated for the injury to the police captain, police spokesman Clem Benton said. Most of the arrests were for failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.

Things seemed to return to normal Friday — or as normal as possible in this post-WTO city. About 100 people gathered in a city park to fill out damage claims for injuries or losses they say they suffered in last year’s WTO protests. They paraded to the city clerk’s office and handed in 172 claims demanding a total of $545,722.

Soon after the complaints were filed, pepper spray or some similar substance was released at three spots inside the bus tunnel that runs beneath downtown. The tunnel was closed for about two hours. Westlake Center mall, where one entrance to the bus tunnel is located, was evacuated, and five people there were treated for shortness of breath.

Sue Stangl, spokeswoman for the Seattle Fire Department, said by the time crews entered the tunnel, the smell had dissipated and they were unable to determine the source.

Holiday shopping continued around the firetrucks and ambulances, and downtown workers seemed unperturbed.

"Security came running up to our door. They were crying, and they said to close our doors," said Zach Peyton, folding jeans in the mall’s Hot Topic store.

"Yeah, but last year we got gassed better," said co-worker Mark Ortega.

"All the kids in the store were like, freaking out," Peyton said. "But this was nothing."

In defending his officers, Kerlikowske said that Thursday started peacefully with about 2,000 people demonstrating in Seattle’s downtown shopping district. As night fell, fewer than 200 remained and the mood had changed, Kerlikowske said.

"They were people bent on causing a problem," he told a Friday morning news conference.

Police dressed in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse, then surrounded them and made arrests. "I saw them being very patient," Kerlikowske said of his officers, adding that about an hour passed between the first order to disperse and the arrests.

"There was more than adequate time for people to leave the middle of the street," he said.

But reporters, demonstrators and observers said that police penned in and arrested people who were trying to leave the area, including some shoppers who wandered in by mistake.

"They pushed us down the street and ultimately blocked us in," said Legrand Jones, an observer for the National Lawyers Guild. "They ordered us to disperse, but there was nowhere for us to disperse."

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