by Maile Anderson
I arrived at the agreed-upon location of the Labor Day March earlier this month with a friend in the Chinatown International District. Another friend met up with us, and we listened to various speakers giving us advice, reminders, and having us mentally prepare for what could happen. An agitator was already there with his microphone and speaker, asking us to repent, turn to God, etc. Some protesters did a good job at keeping him across the street from the rest of the group; protesters would also occasionally swear and yell at him which did not seem to phase him.
I did notice that there was a police van and there were several cops on bikes. All of a sudden, people rushed in — both protesters and police — to break up a fight. Not wanting to add more bodies to the confrontation, I stayed where I was and didn’t see the start of the commotion.
That moment did, however, show me how quickly things can change. Those of us who did not go over to the conflict then regrouped in the plaza, and speakers were quick to pick up the megaphone and talk about what had just happened and what more we could expect. We then got ready to march, all of us squeezed into the street, and the car brigades to shield us were ready.
The walk down to the office of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) was quiet, but as we got closer, we noticed a few cop cars trailing far behind us so that we did not pay them too much attention.
When we finally arrived at SPOG, our plan was to write words in chalk on the ground and leave garbage bags of trash at the entrance of the building that some folks picked up along the way. I remember getting a piece of chalk and was still thinking of what I was going to write. My friends and I were in the back of the group, but I saw someone in front of me bend down, beginning to write something.
Before they could write a second letter the police swarmed us. Picking up the energy of the people in front, we quickly moved back, and once I got a clearer view, I could see the police had someone on the ground already. In multiple videos that were later posted on social media, when the police first swarmed, they were blasting music. In later searching, I did find a video posted by @seattleprotestnews on Instagram that confirmed they were playing “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” But at that moment, I didn’t hear the music because I was too busy finding my other friend and needing to get out of the scuffle. Luckily, my friend grabbed the handle of my backpack and pulled me away, and that is when police began setting off flashbangs.
A protester started a small fire on the ground, but it happened so quickly I couldn’t see who started it or how it started. It was clear that then the police tactic was to herd us. Still in the back of the crowd with my friends, we met a line of police officers on bikes yelling repeatedly to “move back!” Sometimes if we weren’t walking fast enough, they would quickly ride toward us and then abruptly skid on their tires.
One of the protesters shouted, “Don’t fold like the French!” Then protesters formed chains with one another so we wouldn’t lose stragglers. Those who had on heavier protective gear (i.e., gas masks and helmets) kept reminding the rest of us to not run. There was a steady line of police behind us and also a constant line on the sides of us. We were starting to get confused about where they were herding us to — a protester next to us said that they had experienced a similar situation and that all one can do is keep moving to wait the police out.
Still being herded, we ended up walking through a neighborhood (not sure which one), and then some people in front began overturning garbage and compost bins. I think the idea behind it was that it would slow police down when they biked through, but for those who were still in the back, it actually slowed us down because we were stepping over spilled recycling and food waste. A couple of members from the Morning March group, not those who put this event together, started shouting at those people to stop, that we were walking through a BIPOC neighborhood. We then took a path uphill and ended up at Judkins Park. The police at this point had slowly peeled off, not to what I saw making an effort to follow us there. Once at Judkins Park, people were regrouping with one another and organizing rides back to Chinatown. My two friends and I joined three people in walking back to Chinatown.
Getting home that night, I knew I was shaken and tried to calm myself down. I had trouble sleeping that first night and a couple days after. Since it was my first time seeing clashes between protesters and the police, it was definitely eye-opening for me. These situations, I believe, only continue to fuel protesters’ need to protest and bring attention to what needs to be done in order to begin rebuilding security in our city.
Maile Anderson is a Seattle resident.
Featured image by Maile Anderson.