Friday, December 3, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rally Protests Police Actions -- Some Question Use Of Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas On Bystanders In Residential Neighborhood

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

The bullhorn-bearing activists at Seattle Central Community College last night were trying to inspire the growing crowd of Capitol Hill denizens to resist "bourgeois dictators" and "corporate greed."

But try as they might, the irate crowd couldn't care less.

"We're not marching for workers' power," a man in a biker jacket hollered back. "I'm here tonight to defend my neighborhood. I refuse to live in a police state, and I will not back down. We will not be silenced, and we will not be beaten like dogs in our own streets."

Such was the mood in this always eclectic, liberal district yesterday, where residents said they were still stinging from police officers' aggressive clash with protesters Wednesday night that sucked many uninvolved bystanders into the melee of tear gas and rubber bullets.

While police and some merchants said the crowd-control measures were necessary, many people accused the police of indiscriminate attacks and bully tactics.

"Families on Capitol Hill sleeping in their homes should not be subjected to tear gas or concussion bombs at 2 in the morning," said state Rep. Ed Murray, who represents the area. "Although I have supported and applauded the way police handled the first night of violent acts downtown, I am appalled by the tactics used in residential neighborhoods last night."

King County Councilman Larry Gossett said he will look into citizens' complaints.

Late Wednesday night, police forcefully advanced against a crowd of protesters that had been marching up and down Broadway for hours, blocking traffic. In only a few minutes, tear gas and concussion grenades pushed the marchers from Broadway and Pine Street to the far northern end of Broadway at East Roy Street.

While police and protesters tangled, gas wafted throughout Broadway, sending other people running. Later, when a crowd of onlookers assembled two blocks south of the clash, a line of police charged them, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets to chase them onto side streets.

Police said the situation was unfortunate, but necessary.

"The order to disperse was given and it wasn't obeyed," Seattle police spokesman Clem Benton said. "There's a lot of frustration on both sides. Why would you decide to stand there and watch when we're telling people to clear the area? You'd think somewhere along the line, a certain amount of common sense would be employed."

Police said their vigorous response Wednesday night was prompted by two factors.

The first was when a crowd at Broadway and Pine Street surrounded and kicked a police vehicle as an officer got out to move a protester.

And, said Seattle police spokeswoman Carmen Best, police reported people with Molotov cocktails in the crowd. At that point, extra troops, including the National Guard, were brought in and the East Precinct station was locked down.

Last night, the police response was markedly different. Sidewalk-clinging marches went unfettered, shadowed by only a few officers in regular uniforms. Police provided polite escorts for other groups as they moved between downtown and Capitol Hill.

But residents still were upset that police marched onto Capitol Hill at all Wednesday.

"This was not a `Protest-free Zone,' " said Ridge McCoy, 29. "There is no reason why my friends who were out walking around, minding their own business, got gassed."

But neighborhood merchants were split. Some businesses have had to close, and plywood covers many shop windows.

"This is Christmas - we should be rocking around the clock, and my business has been half of what it should be," said Bradley Jones, general manager of Disc Go Round music store. A few unruly protesters "were lighting fires right up on the corner and stopping all the traffic."

A couple of blocks north, Heather Crawford, assistant manager of the Eclipse frame shop, agreed business has been terrible.

"But it was really bad Wednesday night," she said. "Police used too much force, in my opinion."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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