Sunday, March 4, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle culture too permissive

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The riot in Pioneer Square Tuesday night was deadlier than the earthquake the next morning. The hard things unleashed in the riot were aimed at human heads.

Kristopher Kime, a young man who intervened to help a woman who was not being helped by the police, was hit over the head with a bottle, thrown to the ground and kicked to death. Several others were beaten by a gang that isolated its victims, cold-cocked them and robbed them.

The wider story was that a mob took over an area of our city for more than three hours. Where were the police? They were there, 350 strong, but they did not move. Why? Chief Gil Kerlikowske feared for officers' safety. He was on the scene. By some point in the evening, he may have been correct. But it does not explain why the danger was allowed to grow to that point. Kerlikowske's response since the tragedy has been that of a police chief sickened by what he saw, but firm in his belief the tactics were the correct ones.

This city has a political policy of tolerating things it shouldn't. Whether it is sentimentality or a fear of being accused of provocation, Seattle has a history of allowing small illegalities to grow into big problems. Now we have allowed a drunken party to end in gang robberies and a murder. The spiral from innocent gathering to mayhem is a repeated event in Seattle and it has to stop.

Where was our mayor, Paul Schell? He was not called by his staff, and now faces the consequences of being absent from another Seattle riot. At his press conference Thursday, Schell lashed out against those who blamed the police for the riot. But no fair-minded person blames the police.

Someone fresh to this city might make the mistake of blaming Kerlikowske. But we know better. We have been here before. There is an odd consistency to the events of Nov. 30, 1999, and Fat Tuesday, 2001. The police are there, they hold back. Then, when events get worse, it's either too late or the police become bystanders. After WTO and the WTO anniversary, a lot of people probably thought it would never happen again, but it did. It was an uglier crowd this time, spurred on by alcohol and testosterone.

This time a man died.

Imagine if our mayor had stated publicly before either event - Fat Tuesday or the WTO - that no lawbreaking would be tolerated, not even the slightest. Imagine him saying that the police had his full backing. Imagine Seattle's mayor saying that and the public backing him up.

The fault lies with the broad leadership of the city and tolerance of a culture that is permissive to the point of recklessness.


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