Seattle May Day protest marked by vandalism, arrests


SEATTLE — Downtown Seattle erupted in chaos Tuesday as black-clad May Day demonstrators marauded through the shopping district, smashing plate glass windows at banks and retail outlets, spray-painting cars and slashing tires.

At least eight people had been arrested by early evening. May Day arrests also were reported in Portland, Ore., and New York.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn signed an emergency order authorizing police to confiscate sticks, tire irons, hammers and other implements that might be used for continued destruction.

The order targeted protesters who carried flags and signs on long, heavy poles during marches that began shortly after noon. Police say the protesters converted the poles to implements of urban destruction, attacking targets from Starbucks to Niketown.

“The 1st Amendment uses of 5-foot-long, 3-inch-wide sticks is outweighed by our desire to preserve public safety,” McGinn said at a hastily called news conference.

Intense protests also broke out in Portland, where police reported at least a dozen arrests.

And in New York, birthplace of last year’s nationwide Occupy movement, the campaign surged back into the public eye with a series of May Day protests, the largest drawing thousands of people to Union Square in Lower Manhattan. Local media reported about 30 arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct.

In Seattle, authorities said the problems began after about 300 apparently peaceful protesters marched from Seattle Central Community College, formerly the scene of the Occupy Seattle camp, toward the heart of downtown at Westlake Park.

From there, about 75 protesters wearing black clothing and masks began attacking banks, stores and a few upscale cars.

“By 12:35, we had reports from officers of paint and rocks flying, hammers and tire irons being used to damage property,” McGinn said.

“Sound bombs” and firecrackers also were reported, and local television showed a small fire in one location. Police said they confiscated several homemade incendiary devices and bags of feces from protesters.

But arrests were difficult because many of the so-called black bloc protesters changed their clothing and blended into the crowd, authorities and witnesses said.

Police Chief John Diaz said he had received worrisome reports before Tuesday’s events that anarchists were planning to disrupt May Day marches.

“This is a city that loves protests, that’s proud of their ability to have protests, and the vast majority of the time, we’re able to do it quite well,” Diaz told reporters. “It’s extremely unfortunate that we have small groups of people wanting to hijack these events.”

He said there had been a few arrests, “and I guarantee there will be more.”

By early evening, two new demonstrations, one backed by the Occupy Seattle movement, were converging downtown. Police reported eight arrests.

Police said the courthouse used by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was damaged, along with branches of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, HSBC and Homestreet banks.

In Portland, nonviolent protesters marched through the city and through a major downtown shopping mall, banging drums and chanting: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Police said protesters left the city’s Waterfront Park about noon and almost immediately began walking into traffic, where police confronted them and made several arrests.

At least two banks reported vandalism, including damage to an ATM and broken glass doors, the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.

In New York, protesters began marching down Broadway about 5:30 p.m. Police had closed the major thoroughfare to traffic at the height of rush hour.

“The workers united will never be defeated,” chanted one group carrying a large banner that read, “Smash the 1% with communist revolution.”

Times staff writer Tina Susman in New York contributed to this report.