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Sunday, July 8, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Schell injured in attack at Central Area festival

Seattle Times staff reporters

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The megaphone hit Seattle Mayor Paul Schell just below his right eye. The mayor hit the ground just inches from a spot that still bears traces of memorials to a black motorist killed in a controversial shooting by Seattle police.

The culprit, police say, is James C. Garrett, a longtime black community activist who is running for mayor.

Schell suffered broken bones in his face and was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he spent the night in satisfactory condition. He may require surgery, depending on how his injuries mend, but he is expected to be released today and is hoping to return to work tomorrow and attend Tuesday's All-Star Game, spokesman Dick Lilly said.

Black leaders condemned the attack. But the motivation, Central Area residents speculate, is long-simmering anger over perceived police racism that yesterday found an outlet in a man with a history of assault and threatening behavior.

Garrett, also known as Omari Tahir-Garrett, was among a small group of people using Schell's appearance at a community celebration in the Central Area yesterday as a platform for protesting police brutality in the wake of the May 31 death of black motorist Aaron Roberts.

Roberts was shot after two white officers stopped him for a traffic violation. Police say Roberts tried to drive away from the scene, dragging one officer alongside the car, when the other officer fired the fatal shot.

Witnesses to yesterday's assault, which occurred around 12:40 p.m., said Garrett blindsided Schell just after the mayor had finished a speech in which he cited mutual respect as a key to unity in the Central Area.

"All I can think of is Omari saw the mayor standing on the exact place where Aaron Roberts lay dead, and he snapped," said Taylor Brandt, who was protesting with Garrett.

The blow broke Schell's glasses and left him bleeding heavily on the corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street. At the time, the corner was filled with people who, like the mayor, had come to launch a Central Area revitalization project.

In the past, the corner has also been a gathering point for members of the black community who see Roberts' killing as another in a string of racially motivated and unwarranted shootings of black men by police.

"You can't come and throw a party in a war zone," said E. Mandisa, who protested yesterday with Garrett. "When the mayor won't meet with us grassroots people about Aaron Roberts and then he comes out here, that's salt in our wounds."

Don Alexander, Central Area resident and member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, also linked the assault to Roberts' shooting.

"This is a direct result of not just that killing, but the accumulated frustration over the years of police brutality," Alexander said. "I can't say I feel bad because I don't know what the provocation was. I'm sure of this: In the past the politicians in this city have provoked these attitudes because of their attitudes."

Garrett is in jail on suspicion of felony assault. If convicted, it would be his second for assault: In 1987, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for hitting a University of Washington police officer with a briefcase and for grabbing a gun from a UW police sergeant and pointing it at the officer.

That assault occurred during a demonstration against the UW's decision not to rehire a popular black lecturer.

This is also not the first time Garrett has had a run-in with an elected official, Seattle City Councilman Richard McIver said. McIver said Garrett became angry at him a few weeks ago while they were discussing the African-American Museum, a project that has long stirred Garrett's passions.

"He got very anxious and walked away physically shaking, he was so angry with me," McIver said. "He told me if I wasn't so old, he'd hit me."

Throughout yesterday afternoon and into the evening, a string of black leaders, including the head of the Seattle branch of the Urban League and the pastor for Mt. Zion Baptist Church, arrived at Harborview to denounce the attack on Schell, saying it reflects poorly on the community and was counterproductive.

"This is something the African-American community can be ashamed of," said Oscar Eason, president of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Though no one at the celebration at 23rd and Union said they condoned Garrett's alleged actions, several said they understood what he might have been feeling.

"Do I feel bad for the mayor?" asked Raul Miranda, who continued the protest Garrett had been a part of. "Let me put it this way: I feel bad for the family of Aaron Roberts."

Miranda was holding a sign that read "Seattle Police Out Of Control" on one side and on the other, "We Demand Justice Now. Peace Later."

Ophelia Ealy, mother of Michael Randal Ealy, who died after a struggle with Seattle police and ambulance workers in another controversial incident in 1998, suggested that Garrett was frustrated.

"There is no justice in this city," she said. "What do you expect people to do, go around smiling?"

Witnesses said Garrett had been drowning out Schell, yelling through the megaphone about police brutality as the mayor delivered his speech.

At one point, said community resident Greg Thompson, Schell asked the crowd whether he should address the protesters. The crowd shouted no, Thompson said, so Schell finished talking and then stood in front of the stage, near candle drippings and a chalk body outline left in memory of Roberts.

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he was standing about five feet from Schell when Garrett burst from a small group of protesters and hit Schell. Garrett was wrestled to the ground by three police officers standing next to the mayor.

One of them, precinct Capt. Nick Metz, said yesterday's attack was particularly appalling given the nature of the event at which it occurred.

"It's really sad, because this was an event that had been planned well before the shooting," he said. "Why we were there, and why the mayor was there was to reach out to the people and spur on a dialogue."

Despite the heightened tensions, Kerlikowske said police had no reason to believe the mayor might be in danger, adding that Schell had been in the area more than a half-dozen times the past month to discuss the shooting and police issues.

The chief also downplayed links between the shooting and yesterday's attack. "We're treating this as an individual, isolated event," Kerlikowske said.

However, Mandisa fears more violence.

"It's like a powder keg in the Central Area," she said. "I don't know what the next spark will be. ."

Seattle Times staff reporters Ray Rivera, Andrew Garber and Bill Kossen, and researcher Miyoko Wolf, contributed to the report.

Eli Sanders can be reached at 206-748-5815 or esanders@seattletimes.com.

Information in this article, previously published July 8, was corrected July 12. Michael Ealy died in December 1998 after a struggle with Seattle police and ambulance workers. The King County Medical Examiner linked the cause of death to chest and neck compression, cocaine intoxication and an underlying heart condition. A civil jury later rejected a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the Ealy family against Seattle police. The jury found that while the individual officers named in the suit acted in a reasonable manner, the Police Department, apart from the officers, was negligent, but that negligence did not cause Ealy's death. A previous version of this article misstated the role of police in the death.

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