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Seattle police working to identify law-breakers in May Day riot

Ted S. Warren
Associated Press

Seattle police said they’re continuing to investigate crimes committed in the course of an unruly May Day demonstration, but that they’re proud of how officers handled themselves.

Capt. Chris Fowler said Seattle police incorporated some important lessons from last year’s May Day protests. They had much longer to plan this year, even treating a small March 15 protest as a “rehearsal.” 

Police had been criticized in an independent investigationfor taking only days to plan their response to last year’s demonstrations.

This time around, the force also deployed more bike patrol officers, and trained them to use those bikes for crowd control. Officers wielded them to herd and push protesters out of areas they were trying to clear, and formed barriers with them to block streets.

And Fowler said officers tried to make arrests in a more surgical manner, without getting entangled in the crowd. But he said that plan went awry after the first two arrests.

“The crowd as a whole surged around the officers, and really created a barrier from the officers getting the individuals out. At some point we were able to get those individuals out, get them into some vehicles, and then the crowed surged around the vehicles, with no protection,” Fowler said.

That triggered the decision to clear the area around Fifth Avenue and Olive, and police started pushing protesters eastward to where they say there were more streets available for people to disperse along. They deployed pepper spray and firecracker-like blast balls along the way. Some protestors and observers have complained police used them indiscriminately, and that officers didn’t give people a chance to comply before treating them roughly.

Police arrested 17 protesters, and they say they’re looking for more suspected of breaking the law. They will be asking the public to submit any video or other evidence that could help the investigation.

Fowler said detectives are “working feverishly” to identify perpetrators, in some cases even noting the types of masks protestors were wearing.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.