Notes from the front

Anitra Freeman (
Thu, 2 Dec 1999 22:32:34 -0800 (PST)

More from Dr. Wes Browning on current events in Seattle:

So I went home Wednesday morning when the Mayor said it was legal for
me to. Watched TV, tried to sleep. Then at 3:30pm yesterday I headed
out with Anitra to make the weekly 4pm editorial committee meeting at
the Crocodile Cafe. 

If you've been watching the news from Seattle on TV but haven't ever
been here there is something about the whole situation that you may
not realize: it's all about geography and geographic strategy. Seattle
is a thin-waisted hourglass city. Downtown is wedged between a
precipice to the water on the west and I-5 and steep hills on the
east. We talk about the "north-south downtown corridor". 

So when these people said they were going to shut down Seattle's
downtown, I knew they could do it. You just have to look at the map.

Anyway, so Anitra and I usually take the bus to the ed com, it's
usually a short 5 minute ride through that corridor, but (surprise!)
it took the bus twenty minutes to move two blocks this time.

So we got out and walked. No problem really, we thought, it only takes
twenty-five minutes, we won't be too late. 

Well, that didn't quite take into account the SPD's new strategy of
intimidation and the fascination it would exert upon us. (We are
curious folks.)

All of a sudden Wednesday afternoon at Third and Stewart the SPD
started applying a whole new set of tactics all united in the single
purpose of inspiring terror.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing, mind you. I'm just reporting the
fact that a change in strategy occurred and I can mark the time and

By the time Anitra and I got to that intersection the tear gas was
dissipated enough that it smelled good to me (I _like_ jalepenos, this
pepper based stuff gives me a rush when it's thin enough not to hurt).
There were no demonstrators, they had move by then about two blocks
away. But there were two files of storm trooper -outfitted cops
standing at attention in the middle of the street. So we stood there
and waited to see what they would do. For a moment we thought we
might get rushed, but usually they pull up in rank formation before
doing that so I wasn't too worried.

What they did was start a show march. It wasn't high goose-stepping
but it was a stiff-legged march designed to intimidate, boots stamping
the pavement in unison. Very effective. All the bystanders watched
with their mouths hung open. They marched away from us, and away form
the vicinty of the demonstrations! The protestors were to the east,
the police marched west. Weird, I thought. Maybe there's a splinter
group of protestors somewhere I don't know about, I thought.

We continued on, moving over to Second, well away from the proscribed
area by now and we were astonished to find a dozen police cars facing
north on that one-way south-bound avenue, together with a storm
trooper laden armored truck, all staring down -- normal traffic.

Just normal traffic. No demonstrators, nothing out of the ordinary. I
talked to some bystanders to ask if anything had recently happened at
that intersection to provoke this display of force by the police and
learned that there had been nothing.

OK, then, fine. We kept walking the one remaining block to the office.
We asked there what was going on. Tim Harris, our director, was out in
front and we enjoyed a good laugh as he described in ludricous terms
how the police had just minutes earlier made a show of hunkering down
and taking control of an entirely uncontested intersection.

Then we went to the Croc, had our meeting. It took about an hour, and
by the time we finished it was nearly six o'clock and dark outside.
The Mayor had reinstated curfew and I was determined not to spend
another night shut up inside the office. So I got ready to walk back

Then a new tactic became apparent. Second was cleared by that time,
and all at once a long line of patrol cars with all lights and sirens
on screamed down the avenue. Within a few minutes another half dozen
followed. We could hear the sirens continuously, the cars didn't
seem to have a destination. Overhead, above the retail center, two
police helicopters hovered directing floodlights randomly about the
streets and buildings below.

Anitra had to wait for one of our guests from Portland before she
could go home. (There was only the one of the three by now. One had
gone back to Portland to write a story about Tuesday's events. Another
had gotten himself arrested for taking part in a sit-down

I couldn't wait. I told her to follow as soon as she could, not to get
caught in the curfew, but I just _had_ to figure out what was up with
those patrol cars. There might be humor to be found in it! So I
started back south on Second, hoping to find them, a humor columnist
on a quest for material.

I found the patrol cars about six times. What they were doing is what
I had suspected: they weren't going _anywhere_, they were simply
driving like that, in single file with lights and sirens on, nonstop,
through red lights and green, erratically through the city streets. It
was all a calculated show of force, they weren't going anywhere.

After I got home I called Anitra and made sure she was on her way. I
told her some places to avoid ("Two busloads of riot cops at Second
and Pine, take First.") She got home forty-five minutes later and
reported noting the same thing about the patrol cars.

Oh, I forgot, there was also a double file of motorcycle cops racing
around the city doing the same thing.

Fascinating. I don't think it worked though.

Last night, while Anitra and I got some much needed sleep, all hell
broke loose up on Capitol Hill. I wasn't there, didn't see it
personally, but I think that the film showing the police tear gassing
a city council member _while_ he was trying to establish a negotiation
_suggests_ that just _possibly_ the police let their new strategy of
showing force first might be getting misapplied.

But, like I said, I wasn't there.

Maybe I'll see something tonight that will give me a better idea of
how it's working. Or maybe the SPD will surprise us all and come up
with yet another turn-about in strategy.

They certainly are making life interesting. I surely won't have any
trouble finding comedy in all this for my next column. It's been a
riot! :D

>>>>>>>>>          Wes Browning             <<<<<<<<<
<<<<<<<<< = ho`ike `o ke alaka`i i ke kona  >>>>>>>>>
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