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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)
Features'60s Dream Lives On
Suit Filed Against George W. Bush
"Friends in High Places"
Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad
Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge
Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington
How to Run for City Council
Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?
Monoculture and Mad Cows
Itching to Ride Light Rail
Is Work Killing You?
Escaping the Globalized Gym
Seattle's Clattering Poets
A Puppetista Manifesto
Living Outside Empire
Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge
Social Transformation Explained? Technogod
Spokane Free-speech Battle
Seattle police don’t seem to help anyone in a crowd anymore
opinion by Doug Collins
Mayor Schell has said he would cancel Mardi Gras next year. This is about as absurd as cancelling New Years Eve or Halloween. What will Schell, or whoever is mayor next year, do when crowds show up for Mardi Gras 2002? Crack down? If so, it will probably result in riots again. Clearly, Schell and city leaders need to deal with crowds in a different way. They have not yet learned that the stance they adopted for the WTO will always result in property destruction, lawsuits, and injured people.
After being embarrassed by protestors on the first day of the WTO, it seems that Schell and the Seattle Police Department break out the riot-gear in reaction to any crowd situation in Seattle. Though police may look tough in their armor clad phalanxes, they are of little use to anyone when assuming such a posture.
At the recent Mardi Gras observances in Seattle, what use were the police to the people who were victims of random beatings? Though police cameras abounded, the police did not intervene and capture the perpetrators. Despite the willingness of many police officers to intervene, police leadership was simply too wimpy to order the officers to really act as civic aides. Of course some of the crowd were definitely antagonistic toward authority and willing to throw things, but how did so many in the crowd become this way? Could the huddled, segregated, armored stance of the police during the whole week preceding Mardi Gras have anything to do with it?
In my one experience of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I remember a generally anarchic celebratory parade atmosphere (I was a bit drunk admittedly), but a few police seemed to be present on every block. They blended in and were part of the evening. They mitigated disturbances when necessary. They were not cowering in military formation on the edges of the party. Rather than our city making expensive and vain attempts to cancel Mardi Gras, Seattle police should take a training from New Orleans police and start turning their bad public relations around.
And what use were the police to the owners of damaged property? It’s easy and obvious to blame the partiers who turned over the car and caused other destruction. But when was the car turned over? Right after the police started pushing the crowd off the streets. Indeed, just as during the WTO “crowd control” attempts by the police, most property destruction occurs after aggressive pushes by lines of police, along with teargas and the use of other unwelcome toys. If police let crowds disperse naturally and with time, their enforcement is likely to be much easier and with less antagonism. This would be easily done if police would just turn a blind eye to 2am bar closures and let bars stay open longer during Mardi Gras week, so that there are not crowds turned out on the street at 2am. The Amsterdam police turned a blind eye to marijuana/hashish laws for years, and to great public benefit. Do Seattle police have to be so bound by simple bar closure laws which obviously shouldn’t apply at all times?
All the above is not to say that Mardi Gras organizers and partygoers shouldn’t have done a few things differently themselves. The crowd on the streets at Mardi Gras was largely just milling about. Parading was pretty scant, and instead of putting energy into parading and dancing, many of the partygoers seemed to start picking on each other as the night progressed; some were sarcastic and some ultimately violent. If Mardi Gras is to survive as a fun southern tradition in a northern town like Seattle, then the culture of marching music, parading, dancing, and good spirit must be learned better by all.