by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
In the early hours of Pride Day, June 24, a self-described 'organic' group of 50 to 100 people staged a loosely planned march and 'street dance party' that moved through Capitol Hill. The group, called Queers Fucking Queers (QFQ), has taken responsibility for the action.
When the group began dancing in the streets on E. Madison St. between 12th and 14th Avenues near Pony and the Madison Pub, Seattle police ordered the revelers back onto the sidewalk. Amid some confusion, SPD officers then began deploying pepper spray and made six arrests. Those involved claimed the SPD used excessive force, and the incident has sparked a minor public backlash.
The march and dance party had been going on for some time before pepper spray was deployed. According to the SPD Blotter, the department's blog, here's what triggered its use:
'Shortly after 1 a.m. & a 25-year-old male, who was on the sidewalk, purposely stepped off the sidewalk back into the street [after SPD ordered all participants to the sidewalk] and proceeded to walk directly to, and in front of, the police commander. The man clicked his heels and stood at attention in front of the commander. The commander informed the man he was under arrest, and directed officers to arrest him. When the man was taken into custody, the group grew agitated and verbally abusive.'
'Officers saw an unknown man jump on top of a parked car and begin to stomp and jump up and down on it. Officers ordered the man to stop and get down off the car. The man refused, and pepper spray was used. Several members of the group surged forward and a 24-year-old male rushed forward and kicked the commander in the knee. Pepper spray was again used on the suspect. That man was arrested for assault. As officers moved forward to assist the officer, a 30-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman immediately grabbed onto the man being arrested and attempted to pull him back into the crowd. The 31-year-old female had been arrested earlier in the week for trespassing and is well-known in the anarchist community. The two were arrested for Hindering Law Enforcement. A 29-year-old woman was arrested for Pedestrian Interference and Obstructing, while a 22-year-old woman was arrested for Pedestrian Interference during the disturbance.'
POLICE ACCOUNT CHALLENGED
This might seem pretty straightforward, but a few videos that were taken during the incident reveal that the information reported by SPD Blotter might not be true.
One such video shows Hudson Williams-Eynon, the man charged with assault for kicking an officer (Lt. Gregg Calder), being sprayed in the face by Calder, then actually being pulled into the street from the sidewalk - essentially detailing Calder as the aggressor. While it is possible that Williams-Eynon did kick the officer earlier and it simply wasn't caught on camera, Ian Finkenbinder, an organizer with QFQ, is calling the charges 'bogus.'
'I was pepper sprayed at point-blank range, grabbed by my shirt, and thrown onto my face by Lt. Gregg Calder of the Seattle Police. I spent two days in King County Jail under investigation of assault on an officer. I was released Monday evening on the order of a King County Superior Court Judge, who found no probable cause in the police report of my arrest,' said Williams-Eynon at a press conference on June 28.
The videos reveal more details that don't quite seem to match up with the SPD's story as well.
Shortly after the incident, the East Precinct commander, Capt. Ron Wilson, stated that Calder was the only officer to use pepper spray that night. This is clearly not the case.
It was also reported early on that 'pushing and shoving broke out,' which sparked the SPD's use of pepper spray, but it's still not clear that pushing or shoving actually happened.
Finkenbinder said he saw no one make a physical move toward an officer, and SPD likewise said it didn't use force on anyone or make any sort of bodily contact while moving the group to the sidewalk. However, in one video we hear a voice screaming 'Don't fucking touch me!' as the group was moved over.
The same video shows that SPD officers began moving the group to the sidewalk when the group began chanting 'Whose Hill? Our Hill!'
It's also worth mentioning that the same video that details Calder pepper-spraying William-Eynon after the group had been moved to the sidewalk also shows the person on the car, from the time he mounted it to the time he was pepper-sprayed and forced off. According to the video, he wasn't jumping.
WHY PEPPER SPRAY?
SPD had been following the group for approximately an hour prior to deploying pepper spray. Prior to its deployment, SPD claims that members of the group were lighting fireworks, dragging garbage cans into the street on Broadway, yelling at the officers, and 'placing bandanas over their faces' - none of which Finkenbinder denies, although he says their fireworks were only sparklers.
Seattle police trainees receive 120-plus hours of scenario-based and simulator training on use of force. According to an SPD training manual published in 2000, there are no 'cookie-cutter' guidelines for officers to follow when they use force. Instead, they are expected to use their training, experience, and judgment.
The manual goes on to say, 'It is recommended that officers meet force with superior force. This is because studies have shown that officers are at great risk of injury when they use force, and that there is a greater chance of both suspect and officer injury when officers fail to meet suspect resistance with a greater amount of force.'
This said, if someone struck an officer, or even resisted if an officer made bodily contact when moving the group to the sidewalk, one could see why the officers might decide to use pepper spray. But there's no apparent evidence that anything like this happened, other than the testimony of officers on the scene. QFQ feels that they were discriminated against and flat-out targeted because of their radical politics.
ARE 'ANARCHISTS' BEING TARGETED?
'It appeared to officers that some in the group might be affiliated with the various anarchist groups,' said the SPD Blotter.
This, along with Finkenbinder's testimony, begs the question, are the police stalking anarchists? Or, perhaps more to the point, is it a crime to be an anarchist?
Finkenbinder told SGN that some of the people present were 'very visible' activists from Occupy Seattle and various radical Queer groups, and that they were known and targeted by the SPD. But police say that they had an increased presence during Pride weekend because of a similar event that happened last year.
In 2011, a much larger group marched through Capitol Hill during Pride weekend, inflicting damage to cars and windows and attacking the fences of the Wildrose beer garden. The East Precinct stated that it was prepared for a repeat of the event this year.
While this seems an acceptable reason for an increased police presence, Finkenbinder claims that many of the people involved with the event this year were involved last year, and it's further evidence of police targeting radical organizers.
Conspiracy theories aside, it seems that 'anarchists' (note the quotes) have made it into the regular SPD and local FBI lingo.
'I have to infer that they are using that label to target people for police violence and surveillance,' Williams-Eynon told SGN.
WHY DANCE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
That's the $24,000 question. Why attack the fences of the only girl bar in town? Are Queers Fucking Queers fucking over other Queers? Did their actions on Pride weekend, this year and last, spoil anyone's fun?
Finkenbinder said the 'the heart of the matter' is that 'there are Queer youth who aren't able to celebrate Pride in the way that the mainstream Gay community celebrates it - namely, going to bars - partly because of their age and partly because of their income. So the goal was to provide a space for that.'
It's worth noting that the all those arrested were of age, the youngest being 22. While it cannot be assumed that the arrestees' ages represent the ages of everyone in the group, it is obvious that some of the participants were indeed old enough to go to bars.
However, as Finkenbinder pointed out, finances also come into play. Everyone can agree that not being able to afford a night at a bar is a reality for many people. There are other options - not many, according to some LGBT youth - but there are. Dancing in the streets is one of those options. So why didn't the group do it legally, and get a permit? 'You shouldn't have to have a permit to dance in the street when half the streets are already blocked off for events [you] have to pay to go to,' Finkenbinder told SGN.
Finkenbinder went on to say that 'Paying for permits is akin to paying the mob protection money.'
However permits are often granted by the city at no cost. So what it comes down to is the principle of the matter, which is revealed in the group's signature marching chant: 'Whose hill? Our hill! Whose streets? Our streets!'
THE FIGHT GOES ON
All arrestees except Williams-Eynon were released from custody the next morning. While Williams-Eynon has yet to be formally charged with anything, two other arrestees have not had their charges dropped.
The Seattle Police Department Disciplinary Office reportedly will investigate Calder, who was 'Incident Commander' for Pride events.
'The fact that there's no civilian oversight in this investigation is ridiculous,' Finkenbinder told SGN.
At press time, Williams-Eynon has not been contacted by the Disciplinary Office in regard to the investigation.
A solidarity rally and dance party is scheduled for Friday, June 29, at Seattle Central Community College, starting at 8 p.m.
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