What began as a peaceful demonstration in support of immigrant and workers' rights in Seattle on Sunday morphed into a riot as hundreds of black-clad "anticapitalist" protesters stormed through the city's downtown area, smashing windows and clashing with police.
Five police officers were injured in the May Day mayhem, including one who was hit with a Molotov cocktail, another who was bitten, and a third who sustained a cut on the head from a rock thrown by protesters. Authorities said nine people were arrested on charges of assault, property destruction, and obstruction.
Violent protests by anarchists have become an annual occurrence in Seattle on May Day, where several businesses, including Starbucks and Urban Outfitters, boarded up their windows on Sunday to avoid having them broken, according to the Seattle Times.
A Facebook page for the "May Day Anticapitalist March" said it has "become an annual event where we march in rage against capitalism and the oppressive forces that seek to gentrify our communities and force the poor into everlasting homelessness, or death." The post warned attendees to "be prepared for violent police repression (pepper spray, flash bang grenades, tear gas, beatings, arrests, etc.)."
After a peaceful pro-labor and pro-immigrant gathering that was permitted by the city early in the day, a group of so-called "black bloc" protesters began to gather in Westlake Park in the heart of downtown Seattle. Organizers urged members of the crowd to "wear black in solidarity with our comrades at the march and around the world." The attire, which on Sunday included hoods and masks, can also make it difficult for police to spot individual protesters who are responsible for violence in a large crowd. Police posted on Twitter that they saw individuals carrying poles, large bolts, and rocks.
At around 6:30pm local time, the crowd began marching through downtown, flanked by a large contingent of bike cops in riot gear. Some in the crowd threw rocks, and police responded by showering them with pepper spray and launching "blast balls," a weapon similar to a flash-bang grenade that emits bright light, deafening sound, and pepper spray.
As the mob moved south, some protesters reportedly set off fireworks, smashed windows, and hurled Molotov cocktails. The group ended up at a Costco store near the baseball and football stadiums at the southern edge of downtown, where people, according to the Seattle Times, were spotted flipping over shipping pallets. Police made several arrests in this area.
downtown Seattle sounds like a war zone #maydaysea #Q13fox pic.twitter.com/VQobU2jH1p
— Hana Kim (@hanamkim) May 2, 2016
— Mike Carter (@stimesmcarter) May 2, 2016
VIDEO: Seattle police make arrests at CostCo parking lot #MayDaySea (KOMO) pic.twitter.com/8Anrhl5cQy
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) May 2, 2016
Videos posted on YouTube and Twitter showed chaotic scenes as bike cops tackled protesters and used their cycles as makeshift barricades to herd the crowd. Footage showed protesters sprinting along the streets amid clouds of tear gas and ducking while blast balls detonated.
Of the nine people who were arrested, police said eight were men ranging in age from about 20 to 32, along with a teenage girl. None of the police officers were said to be seriously injured, and the one hit with a Molotov cocktail was not burned.
During a news conference on Sunday night, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said police responded "appropriately" to the violence and showed restraint. Murray blamed the "senseless violence" on a "different crowd" from those who had attended the peaceful march earlier in the day.
Murray said it was "deeply regrettable that in a city that goes to incredible lengths to respect First Amendment rights, there are some who disregard our values and engage in senseless acts of violence and property destruction."
The unrest was a repeat of last year, when 16 people were arrested and three police officers injured. Protesters threw bottles and wrenches, and police responded with pepper spray and blast balls, just like this year.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole praised the department's performance controlling the crowd on Sunday. "Our plan was much better this year than last year," she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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