December 6, 1999
Trade continued last Friday, in spite of protests, at Tony Softle's T-shirt sidewalk concession.
Photo by Becky Nixon.
by Becky Nixon & Carol Edwards
Seattle and the surrounding areas are recovering from last week's World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, the resulting protests, and respondent police action.
It is estimated that nearly $10 million was lost in sales. Property damage, anticipated to be in the millions, is still being assessed.
The holiday atmosphere that filled the downtown earlier was drastically altered last week with broken windows, stolen merchandise, and acts of vandalism.
By last Friday, many businesses, including Nordstrom, Bon Marche, GAP, Old Navy, and Nike Town, were boarded up and protected by police or security guards as they struggled to allow shoppers safe access to their stores. Other businesses, such as Jay Jacobs and Warner Brothers, were closed completely.
The focus of international news, Seattle was portrayed as a soft war zone with television coverage of thousands of protesters, rampant vandalism, and police response, as delegates from 135 nations tried to meet at the Seattle Convention Center.
Last Monday's opening meetings were delayed because of security concerns. On Tuesday, labor unions, special interest groups, environmental groups, anarchists, witches, and others, filled the streets to protest WTO. Peaceful at first, the situation quickly degenerated, forcing Seattle Mayor Schell to declare a state of civil emergency in Seattle and to bring in the National Guard.
"The Seattle Police Department prepared for peaceful demonstrations and did expect some criminal activity. But we didn't anticipate the magnitude of the criminal activity that took place and the number of people breaking the law," said Vinette Tichi, Seattle Police spokesperson and Woodinville resident. "Windows were broken, merchandise was stolen and thrown in the street, cars were damaged, and people's safety was threatened. Every Seattle police officer worked last week, many of them with 50 hours overtime. Some worked 17-hour shifts with only one meal. Other county and city police were brought in, including the Washington State Patrol, King, Snohomish, and Pierce County police, and officers from Auburn, Redmond, Kirkland, and more."
A curfew was imposed during the week. Many employees who work in Seattle and live in the Northshore and Lower Snoqualmie Valley found their businesses locked down and suffered hardships in getting in and out of the city. There was a significant disruption of traffic as streets were closed, and bus transit came to a halt in the downtown core.
Emily Murray, 24, a former Northshore resident now living in Seattle, provided this account after she had to leave her Seattle job early last Tuesday to get home:
"I walked up Pine toward 4th and heard the faint sound of an alarm. Next door to Rite Aid on 4th and Pine is a jewelry store. One of the front windows had been smashed ... a group of about 10 people my age and dressed mostly in black walked down Pine St. on the other side from me. One carried what appeared to be a pipe, at least 4 ft. long. Swinging the pipe the way a batter finishes out a swing at a ball, he used all the weight the pipe could provide by grasping the base with his left hand and flipping it with a flick of his wrist into one of the 15-foot facade windows at The Sharper Image, shattering it to bits. The lady who always sells newspapers at that corner screamed to them, 'You have no right to disturb this peaceful protest!' As I turned left onto Pine St., it was chaos. Dumpsters had been pulled out into the street and onto their sides, and people were standing on them."
More than 2,000 members of the press from around the world came to Seattle to cover the WTO meeting and the resulting protests.
"Protesters came into the emergency room with pepper spray complaints. Many of them were in bad shape, due to alcohol," said Naaman Midyette, a Harborview paramedic student.
"Around 500 people were arrested for burglary, reckless endangerment, failure to disperse, property damage, and theft," said Tichi.