Thursday, June 02, 2005

Naive?...Stupid?...Or Just Liberal SOP?

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper having had five years to reflect on the debacle that was the December 1999 WTO meeting, says he shouldn't have listened to his Mayor or himself, but the frontline cops:

I monitored the training we provided to our officers. It started with classroom instruction on the short history of the WTO, the protest methods used in Geneva [the prior year], and what they could expect, from best- to worst-case scenarios. Next, the student-officers ... were subjected—against the audible background of an actual riot (a loud actual riot, recorded during recent political protests in Vancouver, B.C.)—to simulated protest strategies and tactics, including violent attacks. .... They rehearsed tactics, prepared mentally for things likely to come.

All along, I'm thinking, We've got this sucker covered.

But my cops? They weren't so confident. They appreciated the training, they loved the new equipment—all that all-black "hard gear," from catcher-like shin guards to ballistic helmets, making them look like Darth Vader. But they were convinced the city was in for a real shitstorm.

There were some ominous signs—Internet organizing and mobilizing, Ruckus Society training, anarchists threatening to descend on the city and muck things up not only for the conferees but also for the throngs of peaceful protesters.

How did he get put in the position in the first place?:

I was "out of the loop" on the decision to invite the WTO Ministerial Conference to Seattle (November 29-December 4, 1999). I'm not sure how I would have voted anyway—for all I knew, "W-T-O" were the call letters of a Cleveland radio station. ....

Local politicians were ecstatic that Seattle had beaten out San Diego... for the honor of hosting the WTO Conference. ....

No one was more tickled than Mayor Paul Schell. He wrote in an issue of his "Schell Mail"... "As the whole event comes to a peak during the days of the actual Ministerial our streets and restaurants will be filled with people from all over the world. Issues of global significance will be addressed in our conference halls and public spaces. School teachers will use local news to teach international civics lessons. (And our many visitors will be bringing something like $11 million of business to our town.)"

....One city council member invited protesters from around the world to come to Seattle to join in the "dialogue." He issued urgent public appeals to Seattleites to find room in their homes to house the hordes.

The results of such thinking were:

Our cops were clearly in trouble. ....

...self-described anarchists and Beavis-and-Butthead recreational rioters unleashed a round of criminal acts.

Thugs in uniform—black with black bandannas—popped out of the throngs of peaceful protesters and chucked bricks and bottles at cops, and newspaper racks through shop windows. They even smashed a Starbucks window and ripped off bags of Arabica, Colombian, and French roast (a hanging offense in Seattle). Then they scurried back into the crowd where they cowered behind senior citizens, moms with jogging strollers, and kids dressed up in those cute little sea turtle costumes.

I walked into a hastily called meeting .... The mayor was there, so was Washington governor Gary Locke, ... King County Sheriff Dave Reichert, and a couple of feds .... The meeting had one item on its agenda: whether to declare a state of emergency and call in National Guard troops. Tension in the room was palpable, as you might expect with a city under siege. But there was also an undercurrent of something else.

....Mostly, I was afraid I'd failed. I had let down a lot of people I cared about. Sitting next to me ...was Sheriff Reichert [now a US Congressman] who wanted nothing more than to get back out on the streets to kick some ass and take some names. Reichert, angry at our insufficiently "aggressive" plan for dealing with the demonstrators and disgusted by the dithering in the room, leaned over and whispered, "Let's just throw the damn politicians out of the room." ....

.... The poor guy was apoplectic, his blood boiling over every time [Mayor] Schell opened his mouth

.....At 3:52 the mayor declared a civil emergency. The governor called out the National Guard. .... A curfew, which covered most of the downtown area, was imposed for that evening and the next.

I left ... and headed back out on the streets. If anything, the situation was worse. Police officers were being pelted with an amazing array of missiles: traffic cones, rocks, jars, bottles, ball bearings, sticks, golf balls, teargas canisters, chunks of concrete, human urine shot from high-powered squirt guns. Gas-masked militants fired their own teargas at the cops, hurled ours back at us, and flung barricades through plate glass windows. Some moron(s) flattened all four tires on a herd of parked police cars. By nightfall it was no better. Most of the action simply moved to Capitol Hill where innocent caf diners got gassed along with rioters.

Finally, the siege is over, and:

It took great self-discipline for me not to blurt out publicly what I thought of the mayor. .... the mayor had acted the fool .... First and foremost were his reckless remarks to and about Sheriff Reichert.

Riding around at the height of the rioting ...Reichert had observed an act of vandalism. ...he bailed out of the car and gave chase. ... his actions ... endeared him to my cops, who had plenty of other reasons to favor the county lawman over their own chief.

As the mayor and the sheriff walked out of a hall following one of Clinton's speeches, Schell cornered Reichert. He told him he didn't appreciate the sheriff "acting like a fucking hero out there," or words to that effect. He blocked Reichert's path, and continued to berate him. The sheriff ignored the mayor, and pushed past him. Schell, always the gentleman, shouted after him, "I'll personally destroy you!" ....

After the dust had settled, Schell presided over a special cabinet meeting. He praised all the city departments who'd played any kind of a role during the week .... He thanked us for our personal sacrifices, and so on. It was a gracious statement. Then he said, "You know, everyone did a terrific job under incredible stress. Everyone except our lunatic sheriff."—the "lunatic" won election in November 2004 to the eighth Congressional District from Washington.

....If Paul Schell wasn't responsible for this mess, who was? I was. The chief of police. I thought we were ready. We weren't. I thought protest leaders would play by the rules. They didn't. I thought we were smarter than the anarchists. We weren't. I thought I'd paid enough attention to my cops' concerns. I hadn't. All in all, I got snookered. Big time.

To this day I feel the pangs of regret: that my officers had to spend long hours on the streets with inadequate rest, sleep, pee breaks, and meals, absorbing every form of threat and abuse imaginable (including, for a number of officers, a dose of food poisoning, from eating vittles that had been sitting out all day); that Seattle's businesses were hurt during the rampaging; that the city and the police department I loved lost a big chunk of collective pride and self-confidence; that peaceful protestors failed to win an adequate hearing of their important antiglobalization message; and, yes, that Paul Schell's dream of a citywide "dialogue" had been crushed.

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