Seattle's Ferguson march: Inside the anarchist-activist divide

Local protesters' response to the grand jury highlighted a very Seattle divide.
Crosscut archive image.

Demonstrators sit at the intersection of Broadway and E. Pike Street on Capitol Hill.

Local protesters' response to the grand jury highlighted a very Seattle divide.

While Ferguson burned, about 200 protestors in Seattle took to the streets in what was a mostly peaceful, albeit noisy night of demonstrations. Fueled by anger and adrenaline over last night’s grand jury decision against indicting Darren Wilson for shooting black teenager Michael Brown, the crowd circled Seattle from Westlake to Capitol Hill to the Central District to I-5 and back to Capitol Hill.

The night revealed a frustration with police, but it also revealed a rift in what one woman described as “Seattle’s leftist politics,” some demanding peace, others hoping for clashes. When it was all said and done, five people were arrested, but the violence and property damage were relatively limited.

By 5:45 on Monday, few people had gathered for the scheduled 6 p.m. demonstration in Westlake Park, timed to coincide with the announcement of the grand jury results in St. Louis. The scene was odd as there were far more media and police than protestors. One woman tried to hand out fliers to passersby but with little luck.

However, about five minutes before the announcement a modest crowd had assembled around a woman with a bullhorn. Although the verdict had not yet come, her tone seemed to assume it would not be an indictment. She shouted the protestors knew the details of Michael Brown’s murder, and that “America needed to come to a halt.” 

Her assumption proved correct. And perhaps everyone in the crowd had expected the same, because there was little reaction to the announcement. “OK,” said the woman with the bullhorn, “so Darren Wilson was not indicted.” There were some grumbles and a “Fuck that,” but the result felt like simply part of the planned events: gather, learn he was not indicted, march.

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Protesters decided to lie down at Fourth and Pine Photo: David Kroman

The crowd then stepped out into the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street and began to walk north on Fourth, shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter.” They turned up to Third Avenue where the woman with the bullhorn realized that some people may have waited until after the announcement to come downtown. They circled back to Fourth and Pine to pick them up. There, they lay down in the streets, the first of a few “die-ins.”

The modest police presence — about 20 bicycle cops — only observed. One commuter begged an officer to move the crowd. When the officer said he wouldn’t, the driver asked, “Can you tell them a woman’s in labor or something?” But as the demonstrators moved up Pike Street to Capitol Hill, the force grew. By the time the demonstrators stopped on Broadway and Pike, there were up to 10 motorcycles, five or six police cars, a few vans carrying gear, and a mini-bus.

For a time, it looked like the protests would continue as they had downtown: die-ins, shouts and moments of silence. But then, as if scripted, a new crowd of protestors wearing all black with bandanas over their faces, entered from the north, dubstep following them from a portable PA system.

The original group seemed ecstatic to see them, although it quickly became clear that the two factions had conflicting agendas: When the original protestors suggested a sit-in and moment of silence, those wearing black were none too happy. And when the group tried to turn back downtown, the new protestors started shouting “Fuck downtown, let’s go to the CD.”

The crowd was swayed and they turned east. When asked why the Central District, one man in black said, “That’s where the real black people are. They’re having a meeting at Garfield Community Center to keep the young black youth from being out here with us.” When the same man was asked if he would be OK with some violence, he hesitated before saying, “I’m an anarchist, what do you think?”

When they arrived at the community center, it was not as tense as they’d expected, so they moved on quickly. They decided to head to I-5, perhaps amid reports that freeways were being blocked in other cities. It was here that things got the most charged. The police, while hands off for the most of the night, decided they could not allow a freeway blockage, so set up barricades to the entrance. Nevertheless, about 20 protestors managed to get on the road and block traffic. The police then used concussion grenades and pepper spray to disperse the obstructers. Some protestors reported tear gas, but when asked, the police maintained they had not used any yet and that people were confused by the combination of pepper spray and smoke from fireworks shot off by protestors. It was here that the police made their first arrests.

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Demonstrators sit at the intersection of Broadway and E. Pike Street on Capitol Hill. Photo: David Kroman

The remaining protestors marched to 14th Avenue and E. Pike Street, their shouts the loudest of the night. It was a strange standoff, the police blocking Pike south of 14th, but leaving adjacent streets open. To move to the other side of the barrier, one only needed to circle the block. The police had donned their riot gear and some had un-holstered their pepper spray. As things grew tense, one officer whispered, “You better watch out. We’re going to start pushing.”

But just as the police force readied, the protestors quieted a bit, apparently growing tired. It was nearly midnight. Accordingly, the police drew back slightly. When asked if they were still going to push, the officer said, “Orders change all the time. Personally, I’d just let them walk around all night.” By this time, it was late enough that only the protestors and police were left on the streets. Noting this, the officer said, “They’re only here because we’re still here. They need someone to protest to. I just want to go to the bar.”

Eventually, the main force of police dispersed completely, leaving only a few officers to escort the group. The protestors cheered and upped their chants. The decision by the police to not push turned out to be a good one: The protestors, apparently satisfied with their successful standoff, marched into the early morning before going home. 


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.