Seattle gears up for May Day demonstrations amid heat wave

Seattle gears up for May Day demonstrations amid heat wave »Play Video
FILE - Police clash with protesters at Seattle's 2013 May Day demonstrations.
SEATTLE - Organizers of an afternoon May Day march in Seattle say they're marching for immigrant and worker rights, including the campaign for a $15 minimum wage, while police prepare for May Day protests later in the evening - which have turned violent the past two years.

The peaceful afternoon march, which has a permit, starts at 3 p.m. at Saint Mary's Church on 20th Avenue. Marchers will travel north and west, ending at Westlake Park with a rally. It is organized by El Comite and the May 1st Action Coalition.

Thousands of marchers are expected, and police are warning motorists to expect traffic tie-ups in downtown Seattle.

At 5 p.m. Sustainable Wages Seattle is sponsoring a concert at Seattle Central College to promote a $15 minimum wage.

Two other demonstrations later on - an anti-capitalist demonstration at Seattle Central College at 6 p.m. then another at the King County Juvenile Detention Center at 6:30 p.m. - may include clashes with police.

Last year, eight officers were hurt after people pelted them with bottles and rocks, and at least 17 people were arrested. Police used flash-bang grenades and pepper spray to disperse crowds.

This year, Seattle police will escort marchers through the streets. They will allow peaceful, lawful protests, but officers will have pepper spray and blast balls for crowd control. Protesters will hear three loud warnings over a public address system before this kind of force is used.

Police say they've got a plan to give people their free speech rights - while also protecting the peace - and they're ready for whatever might come their way amid an unseasonably early heat wave that could inflame tempers.

New this year, Seattle police say that they reached out beyond the downtown area - up to the Pike-Pine corridor - where there have been clashes and damage in the past.

Also, all classes at Seattle Central College after 5 p.m. are canceled - just to be safe.

"Our No. 1 concern is setting the conditions for people to protest or express their constitutionally protected rights and beyond that we'll develop probable cause to make arrests for violent crimes or crimes against property," says Capt. Chris Fowler of the Seattle police.

And that's another point police made clear - just because someone isn't arrested on the spot during May Day protests, doesn't mean that they won't be prosecuted.

Capt. Fowler says they'll search all evidence in the days and weeks to come.

Meanwhile, a number of businesses have hired private security firms to guard their property downtown. These are the corporations that protesters have targeted in the past - doing some major damage.

Hundreds of businesses have signed up for real time email alerts on where the marchers are and what they're doing. The Downtown Seattle Association started this pilot program last year to track their every movement.

And for all commuters looking ahead to the afternoon - Metro Transit is moving its 4th Avenue runs to 3rd Avenue between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and says commuters should expect delays through the evening.

Socialist Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant says she will walk with demonstrators today during the May Day marches as she promotes her campaign for a $15 minimum wage.

But Sawant is urging marchers to remain peaceful. In a statement, she says she strongly opposes violence and property damage.

"I strongly oppose violence and property damage. These tactics play into the hands of the police and the political establishment who aim to discredit and undermine our struggles," she said.

Sawant went on to say she opposes the "provocative statements and actions" of Seattle police. She claims they act in a repressive and anti-democratic manner.