The Cattle In Seattle: You Guys Had It Coming
Creators Syndicate Inc.
WASHINGTON - As I watched fire, tear gas and mass chaos consume Seattle last week, one wicked little thought crossed my mind: It couldn't have happened to a more deserving city.
I lived in the now-tarnished jewel of the Pacific Northwest for three years - not long enough to grow moss on the bottom of my feet, but long enough to acclimatize to both the region's outward beauty and beastly hubris.
Not content to rest on its natural physical assets, the Emerald City launched an aggressive campaign to become a "world-class" metropolis. Public officials have gone to great lengths - plundering tax dollars, short-circuiting democracy, trampling constitutional rights - to enhance downtown and attract global attention.
Take the Convention Center where the World Trade Organization delegates hunkered down this week. Despite a state constitutional ban on tax subsidies to private enterprises, city officials convinced Washington's Legislature to bail out the construction project twice. Low-income senior citizens were kicked out of their lifelong homes, a family barber shop was shut down, and other small-business entrepreneurs were displaced to make way for a $200-million expansion of the trade center.
Private property owners were forced to go to court when public officials refused to compensate them fairly for seizing their land. A jury awarded those owners up to $20 million more than the government had meagerly offered.
The most notorious abridgment of local voters' rights in the pursuit of world-class status was the construction of the half-billion-dollar Mariners baseball stadium. After the M's threatened to leave town unless they got a new palace, King County (which encompasses Seattle and outlying suburbs) held an election in 1995 on a sales tax to finance the new stadium. The electorate said no.
No matter. Egged on by Seattle's political and business elite, the state Legislature thumbed its nose at the vote, and authorized new taxes, anyway. To prevent citizens from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to a referendum on the matter, the Legislature declared the baseball stadium a "public emergency."
Local opponents of sports pork took another beating two years later, when the Legislature essentially sold a special election to Microsoft mogul Paul Allen - who secured another half-billion-dollar, partially tax-financed, world-class stadium for his Seattle Seahawks.
Gagging unruly dissenters is quintessentially Seattle. When Mayor Paul Schell declared a "demonstration-free zone" in downtown Seattle last week, it came as no surprise. The political establishment has been trying to transform downtown into a demonstration-free zone for years. It's illegal to sit or lie down on downtown and commercial-area sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. It's illegal to put political posters on utility poles or any other city-owned surface. And it's illegal to make too much noise.
Unsatisfied with its current noise ban, one City Council member attempted this year to outlaw any sounds that were "loud and raucous and frequent, repetitive or continuous, which unreasonably disturb or unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort or repose of another." Another almost succeeded in limiting picketing and protesting to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.
Anti-begging laws have been used to squelch peaceful pro-life activists. Nuisance laws have been wielded against law-abiding nightclub owners in the name of public safety. Implementation of the city's so-called "civility" agenda is entrusted to law-enforcement officials whose apparent motto is: Infringe civil liberties first, infringe them selectively, and worry about the Constitution later.
Journalists worldwide noted Seattle's grossly inconsistent treatment of protesters last week. Peaceful marchers were gassed; rioters were free to roam. A local newspaper reporter, Kery Murakami, was hauled off to jail, despite displaying his press credentials.
Foreign dignitaries expressed surprise and dismay at the incompetence of the Seattle Police Department. Mohammed Asfour, a Jordanian minister of industry and trade who was kept away from the WTO's opening ceremonies, told the press: "People like us who came from thousands of miles and to find no organization - it's very sad."
Sad, but all too typical of a scandal-plagued police department whose own rank-and-file officers lost confidence in their hapless police chief a long time ago.
Before the WTO came to town, Seattle prided itself on its cosmopolitan achievement of neatness, tact and order through covert bully tactics and social control. The facade has been shattered. The whole world was watching. And now, they know what kind of player Seattle really is on the global scene: A wannabe. A hinterland. Not ready for prime time.
(Copyright, 1999, Creators Syndicate, Inc.)
Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.