Mayor, Seattle Police Department Engage in Media Campaign to Smear Protesters

Note: This editorial and eyewitness account was written by Ian Finkenbinder, an on-scene protester and one of the organizers for the May Day events.

May Day has, after weeks of planning, concluded. The controversy and media storm surrounding that day’s events and subsequent arrests still churning, as two individuals present are now being officially charged with federal felony charges.

Instead of having the opportunity to reflect on the victories of the day, the Mayor’s office and Seattle Police Department have been engaging in a media tug-of-war with Occupy Seattle, attempting to brand individuals participating in the marches and rallies of the day as violent and dangerous individuals. Considering the rhetoric used by authorities previously, perhaps it is no surprise the current forms of intimidation and smear tactics used by the City.
One individual was written about today in the Seattle Times. He is being held on $75,000 bail:

I was actually present and on-scene for the fracas that occurred, ironically, during a march against police brutality. As we returned to Westlake Park from the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole, one individual was having his flag pole taken (because PVC is CLEARLY a deadly weapon), and while I don’t specifically recall why he was being arrested , a crowd gathered to witness and document the arrest. Many were very angry, and the police allege that at this time a bottle was thrown at an officer’s head.

I did not see that, and do not in fact refute it. After all, I cannot speak to something I cannot witness. I did, however, witness that man’s arrest.

After he was tackled, the individual in question curled up in the fetal position, in what appeared to be an attempt to protect his body from assault. The police then attempted to straighten him out. This not working, two officers lifted him and then slammed him to the ground. Then approximately two or three other officers dog-piled on top of him, striking him. He finally acquiesced.

As this fray was continuing, and as protesters shouted angrily at the cops for their savagery, one woman was attempting to comply with police orders to move away from the scene of the arrest. As she passed along the sidewalk in order to escape the terrible scene, one female police officer grabbed her by the hair and forcibly pulled her over police bicycles and threw her on top of one. I witnessed as they handcuffed her and took her away.

She is now accused of punching a police officer in the chest. Luckily for her, and perhaps unluckily for the arresting officer, the brutal assault on the protester was captured on camera:

Admittedly, you cannot see the chest, nor the alleged striking fist in question. I’m operating on the assumption that the supposed blow was imagined to have been dealt to the female officer as the woman and her friend attempted to get away. After examining the video, I am left with one question: why don’t you at least see the female officer, or any of the surrounding ones, recoil as if struck? None do. All you see is the cop reaching over and yanking her by her hair.
Once those arrests were concluded and the angry and dismayed march began to trickle back to Westlake, I heard that another of my friends, an avid photographer who centers his work around documenting social movements, had been arrested for assault on a police officer. I was shocked. This man had attended many such protests, and always conducted himself safely and without any violent action, to include during an attack on peaceful protesters at the Port of Seattle. Why would he act violently now?

I attended his court date the next day, and as the bail hearings continued, repeated requests from lawyers to remove the media cameras which had been allowed to set up in the first row of the gallery were ignored. Even though regular attendees were not allowed to have photographic devices in the court room, four or five cameras from reporters were peering through the glass. The judge shrugged off stated concerns that the defendents could possibly be at risk due to their faces being shown in the press.

All of the persons present in that hearing were released except for one who is charged with breaking windows at the US courthouse, yet the media campaign continues. Now, on the Mayor’s website, a PDF has been produced which announces the names and dates of birth of the individuals arrested. I will not produce the link here. It’s outrageous that it’s being done.

It’s unfortunately not the only case where they are smearing someone’s name or identity in the press. They recently released an image of an individual they believe was smashing windows at the US federal court. It has now been splashed all over the news. I’m puzzled… the last time I saw such wide dissemination of a person’s face on the news was, frankly, someone accused of murder. So who did the gentleman pictured (again, I will not produce the link to that) murder? A window, allegedly, a crime which now, under Mike McGinn, will end up getting you exposed to the public to possible retribution. Keep on keeping those precious windows safe, Mike!

Is this standard procedure for the Mayor’s office? Why are the arrestees being exposed to this level of scrutiny? The media insanity continues to pour from City Hall and the SPD, as they now are touting instances of grafitti previous to May 1st as evidence that violence would take place:

While Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, PR spokesperson for one of the most violent police departments in US history, would have you believe that graffiti now equals violence, I doubt that citizenry in the Emerald City will be fooled.

This is not the only foolish assertion this man has made. After I attended the May 2nd bail hearings, I was asked by reporters about the charges leveled against my friend and others asserting their “crime” of “assault”. I responded that they were spurious and trumped-up. Whitcomb then responded with an off-base and weak statement:

“Trumped-up charges? What about the smashing of windows, the hurling of paint, the setting off of incendiary devices? … These were deliberate acts, and people need to be held responsible.”

I am only too happy to point out that false charges of police assault have nothing to do with smashed windows, and only betrays Whitcomb’s complicitness in a grander scheme: punishing these individuals for the “violence” that took place on May 1st. The people in power are attempting to make examples of peaceful protesters and leveling severe charges for small offenses in order to intimidate and scare people from exercising their First Amendment rights to protest. As much as Whitcomb would like everyone to believe that confiscated smoke-producing devices are acts of domestic terrorism, the targeting of the arrestees after May Day is insane.

This is not the first time the City of Seattle and the Mayor have leaned on Whitcomb to provide a media narrative targeting Occupy Seattle and its participants. I reported, back in December, that Sgt. Whitcomb had vetted– and successfully changed– the official apology given to Dorli Rainey for the despicable treatment she received at the hands of the police. Sgt. Whitcomb requested the apology be amended to, of course, make the Department look less, well, brutal.

Perhaps Whitcomb and the Mayor are desperate. They seem very ready to make any and every connection possible to throw the book at the individuals who were arrested on that day. They should do better. I’m not fooled, and neither are my comrades. I hope you, dear reader, are not as well.

3 Responses to Mayor, Seattle Police Department Engage in Media Campaign to Smear Protesters

  • Artful Bodger says:

    Let’s see if I get this right: You participate in a public action in the middle of the day — and you are now upset that attention is being drawn to you by the City as part of its media campaign. Oh and this action helped to sour was supposed to be a peaceful day of people asserting their right to assemble in a celebration of May Day. My heart just bleeds.

  • donny1020 says:

    Why is it that the ISO,BOC,RCP Coalition believe the OWS movement is theirs. Why should the Occupy movement turn over the movement to these fringe political groups simply because they are self proclaimed revolutionaries?

    Just read their essay and it tells us a lot. The self proclaimed “revolutionaries” claim that the SPD is the most violent PD in the US but when they get into a fight with the SPD they complain when they get hit?

    They cry about doing time when they attack symbols of consumerism. The attacks were made as a vanguard action knowing the cops would over react. The problem was is nobody outside of small group of individuals who belong to fringe political cults cared. The working class who they claim to be acting on behalf of rejects them and they are oblivious to it.

    The real problem is when those arrested, who are from upper middle class families, start ratting out their comrades. That man from Vermont is looking at doing a nickle of Fed time, he is talking for sure and will tell the cops stuff they want to hear being true won’t even mater.

    Rather than trying to co-opt Occupy they should get on with it and for revolutionary cells like the JJB,RAF, SLA etc and actually do something that is meaningful and truly daring and revolutionary.

  • Steve Leigh says: