WTO Smackdown

Reporters, police, and protesters dream Seattle's nightmare

Asked why he bothers with the risks, hardship, and frequent defeats that occasion a life of activism, Bastien thinks a moment before a smile creases his face: "I have all the history of all the martyrs who have passed before me on my side."

Sunday, July 23, 9:30 p.m. Two blocks from the Hyatt Regency Hotel Protesters hold a peaceful rally in Loring Park, then begin marching through downtown via West Grant Street. A man who identifies himself only as Bill blows into a French horn, hoping to frighten the police horses that shuffle alongside the protesters and omnipresent media. Officers use the horses to nudge the marchers onto the sidewalk. A chant ensues: "Whose streets? Our streets!" The evening ends without an arrest.

Monday, July 24, 11:30 a.m. Peavey Plaza, three blocks from the Hyatt The Rev. Rusty Membrane, faux leader of the Anarchical Spiritual Syndicate, stands before his 200 fellow protesters and as many curious onlookers outside Orchestra Hall. He exudes calm as he condemns ISAG, unruffled by the thick herd of riot-geared police officers fidgeting a few hundred feet away. He believes the karma radiated by protesters will create a "spiritual vortex of peace and love" that will induce officers to "strip off their riot gear and run naked through the streets."

Police Chief Robert Olson says police "tried to be as gentle as (they) could"
Daniel Corrigan
Police Chief Robert Olson says police "tried to be as gentle as (they) could"

Monday, July 24, 1:00 p.m. Near Loring Park at the intersection of 14th and Willow streets A dozen police officers stand shoulder to shoulder, baton to baton as 100 agitated protesters pace in front of them. The demonstrators have left Peavey Plaza, passed the "Demonstration Area" near the Hyatt and traveled to this dusty road construction area, where they stand nose to nose with police. Caught between two brick apartment buildings, with more officers in riot gear moving up behind them, protesters feel caged in.

"Let's just go!" a man finally yells. A chorus of "Charge!" answers him. A swirl of pepper spray is fired by the officers. Protesters bull-rush through the police line using banners and signs as shields. Officers arrest a few people and whack several others with batons. Everyone else scampers into the park.

A cameraman with KARE-TV strays a little too close at the moment protesters stampede, earning him a firm but restrained baton bump from an officer. As the cameraman retreats from the fray, a blue-shirted figure steps forward to shove him back toward the action. Right then, the officer, who had briefly turned his attention elsewhere, spins back around. This time he takes no chances, thrusting one end of the baton into the cameraman's chest and sending him butt-first into the dirt. The blue-shirted figure that gave the cameraman a push? Bernie Grace, a reporter from KARE. The station neglects to mention this fact when it first airs a report that night on their cameraman's beating.

As some protesters stop marching and plop down on the park grass, others continue scurrying toward Hennepin Avenue. Josh Ecklund, a 20-year-old Wisconsin resident, takes off his T-shirt and begins rubbing his bloodshot eyes, trying to wipe away the sting of pepper spray. "The cops don't want to let us get our message out," he says in frustration. "They're trying to incite something. They want to make us look bad."

A half-hour later officers have surrounded about 60 protesters near 12th Street and LaSalle Avenue. Police arrest about 40 of them, including Bastien, who--like so many martyrs before him--finds himself being cuffed and led away. Meanwhile Joel Albers stands among a smaller group of 20 protesters trapped at the same location whom, without explanation, police will allow to go free. A researcher for a Twin Cities pharmaceutical company, Albers has witnessed a similar show of police muscle once before. "I was in Seattle," Albers says quietly. "This is just as bad."

Postscript The Minneapolis City Council plans to have a public inquiry into law-enforcement activity and expenditures surrounding the ISAG demonstrations. Early city estimates are that the MPD and Hennepin County Sheriff's Office dropped close to $1 million on conference security. That would make it the priciest police action in state history, more than double the amount spent on the Highway 55 protests in 1998. The high cost comes even though Olson's initial estimate of 1,200 protesters was off by nearly 1,000.

The ISAG protests dominated the local news until a tornado rocked Granite Falls, Minnesota. WCCO-TV stooped the lowest, dubbing its animal genetics coverage the "Biotech Battle." The daily papers printed news columns, opinion pieces, and in-depth analysis. Both the L.A. Times and New York Times ran a short story from the Associated Press. The Washington Post offered a single paragraph. None said much of anything about the protesters' message.

This week the national media's attention turns to Philadelphia, ostensibly the next Seattle. The site of the Republican Party national convention, the City of Brotherly Love has been bracing for possible demonstrations for months. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, during a recent training session for the city's police force, "officers were shown video of the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization.

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