Seattle Courant Archive

Crowds keep the peace so police don't have to

Crowds keep the peace so police don't have to

By Casey McNerthney
November 06, 2008

Many of Seattle's revelers praised police for how they allowed people to enjoy the moment. Seattle police said the crowds were peaceful and that no additional officers had to be called in, although resources were shifted around as officers closed down streets around two main gatherings in Sodo and on Capitol Hill.

Similar celebrations took place in cities such as New York City and Chicago. Not all cities were as lucky. In Baltimore, police arrested 16 people, including a Johns Hopkins University professor and several students, after complaints about blocked streets in the Charles Village neighborhood, according to the The Baltimore Sun.

"I was very proud of our country last night and very proud of our city last night," Mayor Greg Nickels said Wednesday.

"People celebrated peacefully. What a great comment about democracy and the health of our society," he said.

In Seattle, the crowd swelled into a large party in the 1500 block of First Avenue, near The Showbox, where hundreds of people who attended The Stranger's election party shouted chants that included "U.S.A.!"

The second street party erupted on Capitol Hill, where police estimated 3,500 people converged near the intersection of Broadway and East Pine Street. Several streets were blocked, and people openly cracked beers in the street.

On First Avenue, bike and patrol officers from the West Precinct were on hand to monitor the crowd. The ecstatic revelers halted traffic on First Avenue, and police blocked parts of Pike Street and other streets in crowd control efforts.

On Capitol Hill, police in riot gear stood by as a precaution, but gained praise from partiers for their hands-off approach.

Amanda Sapir, visiting from Arizona, was driving through and got stuck in the crowd as she was trying to return to her hostel.

An Obama supporter, she joined in the cheers, as did many others who were caught in the moment.

"It is exciting and it is a pleasure," she said. "I am glad I drove down the street to be with people celebrating the moment."

Sapir praised the actions of police, calling Seattle one of the nation's most progressive cities.

Annie Eastman, 30, who was visiting from Colorado, had stumbled on the party on Capitol Hill.

"There was just a real good feeling, a lot of people, a lot of dancing, a lot of crying. No one broke any windows. A lot of excited young people," she said.

No street permits were issued.

Police weren't expecting such large turnouts, although they weren't surprised by the spontaneous celebrations, either, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said.

Seattle police don't have a hands-off policy in dealing with impromptu demonstrations, but try to use discretion protecting people's safety, police spokesman Jeff Kappel said.

"We kind of maintain order to make sure there is no property damage," he said. "If there are any kind of violations of law, we have discretion to take action and there are many different ways that can be done."

What happened Tuesday was similar to when downtown bars let out on weekend nights, although on a much larger scale, he said.

The peaceful rallies were a contrast to large crowds that turned into mobs in recent years.

During Mardi Gras 2001, a riot led to one man's death, injuries to more than 70 others, and tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. Police were criticized for waiting too long before intervening under orders from then-newly appointed Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

Two years earlier, police arrested hundreds of protesters in confrontations during the WTO ministerial conference.

During a budget press conference Wednesday, Nickels said numerous other political marches and rallies take place in Seattle with no problems. He pointed to recent marches in support of immigrant rights as an example.

He credited Seattle residents and the Police Department for the absence of any events that would have marred Tuesday's celebrations.

"We try to make sure in terms of political demonstrations that we protect public safety, but that we don't do so at the expense of free speech."
P-I reporter Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or