Police Violence in Seattle

Paul R. Lehto


Since the week-long protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, more and more information has come in about the behavior of the police. Some of it is not only horrifying but astounding.

Astounding because only the barest hint at the truth has been published by the regular media. For that reason, The Shalom Center has compiled a few of the reports we have seen, and is posting them on our Website.

We are posting them for two other reasons as well.

The first is that Witnessing is a sacred act. The tradition teaches that in the verse of the Sh'ma, the "Ayin" in "Shma" and the "Daled" in "Echad" are written super-large because together they spell "Eyd," "Witness."

To say the Sh'ma is to Witness to God's Unity, to testify that we believe the world is Whole and One.

Conversely, to be a witness, literally to testify, to what one sees of wholeness and healing -- courage and intimidation, compassion and violence, justice and domination -- is to proclaim God's Unity. The testimonies below did that.

The second reason: Forty years ago, in 1959, I began an historical analysis of a series of race riots that had erupted forty years before that -- in the summer of 1919. When I began to write, such riots were thought to be an antiquarian curiosity. By 1965, when I published the book, called From Race Riot to Sit-in, 1919 and the 1960s, race riots were again happening -- and there were many more to come.

What I discovered -- at the time, a novel idea; since, more and more understood -- was that police behavior had an enormous effect on whether conflict was carried on in a nonviolent or a violent way. So the question of police behavior has remained an important concern of mine.

Seattle 1999 has much in common with the Chicago "police riot" of 1968, when police attacked a nonviolent protest aimed at the Democratic National Convention. I was in Chicago as both a delegate to the Convention and a speaker at the protest demonstrations, and the descriptions of Seattle point to worse police behavior over a much more sustained time.

During the Chicago police riot, the national and world media told the truth about what had happened. After Chicago, a national commission concluded there had been a "police riot."

During and so far since Seattle, the media have NOT told the truth. After Seattle, it is important to break through media silence and get the full truth into public hands.

In that spirit, The Shalom Center is making the following reports available, with permission by the authors.

Tzdek tzedek tirdof -- Justice, justice shall you pursue --Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director


Paul R. Lehto is a business attorney, operating his own law firm in Everett, twenty miles north of Seattle. He represents business and individual clients from small businesses up to publicly traded non-multinational corporations. During the week of December 6,he was interviewed on National Public Radio regarding the WTO.

Date: Thu, 09 Dec 1999 07:56:07 -0800From: "Paul R. Lehto" <lehto@eskimo.com>Subject: WTO: Torture in Seattle

In additional to the even more damning evidence below, please see ABC News which reports other damaging details of last night's Seattle City council meeting.

(police targeting medics, confiscating medical supplies, batonning people in wheelchairs, deliberately tossing tear gas into quiet Capitol Hill businesses (known as a gay neighborhood), allowing single people to walk but attacking couples in that same neighborhood calling them "faggots" and "queers", and the list goes on and on.


Well over a thousand people turned out last night 12/8/99 to give detailed stories and evidence of police torture of jailed peaceful demonstrators and other human rights abuses Tuesday night, in front of the Seattle city council. The room only accommodated 224 people, so hundreds waited outside in cold temperatures and pouring rain for up to 8 hours to hear and attempt to give their own testimony of police initiation of the riot and police brutality.

It lasted EIGHT SOLID HOURS, and still hundreds were not able to give their testimony, limited to three minutes per person. One hundred fifty people spoke, 148 speaking against the actions of the police, and 2 speaking in favor. The 148 people provided the most riveting and disturbing testimony I've ever heard (and the council members have said they have ever heard). Testimony included:

1. Detailed testimony about torture techniques designed to leave no marks (but did anyway) on the hands of up to a dozen jailed demonstrators.

2. Testimony from MDs providing expert testimony that symptoms of protesters like immediate out of cycle menstruation, diarrhea and others were consistent with acetylcholine esterase inhibition, a kind of nerve agent/action not possible with tear gas, pepper spray and OCgas.

3. Testimony of 2 miscarriages caused by unprovoked police violence, including one physical assault and another from gas and pepper spray.

4. Incredibly disturbing video of huddled protestors in the fetal position being attacked by numerous police officers with batons, one pulling a protesters head back in order to spray pepper spray directly in his eye, making him writhe in incredible pain, hands squeezing his head like he was trying to pull his own head off.

5. Video footage of police kidnaps, using unmarked vehicles rushing into crowds.

6. Hundreds of cases of jailed demonstrators being denied food, water, their legal right to counsel, being stripped and humiliated in front of people of the opposite sex.

7. People in dreadlocks being abused and pulled around by theirhair.

8. Refusal of the city attorney, Mark Sidran, to negotiate in good faith with attorneys for the demonstrators or to allow the demonstrators even basic constitutional rights.

There were over a hundred calls for the resignation of the mayor and many for the firing of the city attorney and prosecution of police officers.

Even more disturbing is the media coverage. KIRO TV took the single police officer who showed up and led with the story that in an eight hour meeting of "outrage over the handling of the WTO," a police officer "asked for compassion from the crowd". Then the media TOTALLY IGNORED the overwhelming evidence that brought the crowd and even council members to tears, many, many times. And totally ignored the unrebutted testimony that it was a police-created riot from the very beginning.

Another TV station simply said "most spoke against police, but some spoke in favor" (Remember it was 148 to 2, and the 148 were overwhelming, riveting and damning in their testimony). No details of torture, more intentional unprovoked police assaults, and especially no coverage of the fact that there was no significant property damage until after the police started a riot by teargassing and rubber bulleting sitting demonstrators.

As one person testified, the US media doesn't need censorship because it censors itself.

Meanwhile, off duty police officers will rally on Friday and, in effect, demand the deference to which they are normally entitled based on their hazardous service to the community. If this is received well by the media and the public, then there will be thousands upon thousands of friends and families of police victims who will .... well, what will they do? There are too many for this to be swept under the rug and denied.

In Seattle, no healing until the truth can be told publicly and in the media,