Spasms of violence hijacked attention from mostly peaceful May Day social-justice rallies Tuesday as black-clad vandals left downtown Seattle littered with shattered glass and put police - and the city - on edge.
The vandalism, much of it aimed at financial institutions, recalled for many Seattleites the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) riots. Mayor Mike McGinn, citing lessons learned from that chaos, issued an emergency order giving police power to preventively seize anything that could be used as a weapon.
The order, imposed after a noontime vandalism spree by about 75 apparent anarchists armed with poles, contributed to arrests and later clashes between police and protesters.
But, after the initial violence and full mobilization of police, much of the mayhem died down. Planned afternoon marches were mostly peaceful, although downtown traffic was tangled.
At least eight people were arrested, and at least a dozen businesses and a federal courthouse were vandalized downtown.
At an afternoon news conference, McGinn said most protesters were peaceful, but he told police "to respond to lawbreaking swiftly and aggressively."
"The First Amendment uses of 5-foot-long, 3-inch rod sticks is outweighed today by our desire to preserve public safety and confiscate weapons," he said.
McGinn said he feared that the vandals - who evaporated into the crowd after the noontime violence - would return. Several protesters were arrested during an impromptu march through Belltown in the afternoon - including one man who threw a bottle at officers, according to police.
Police had been on alert to potential violence after seeing mention on anarchist websites of preparations for May Day protests, including targeting "pigs on horses," in apparent reference to mounted police.
Tuesday's protests distracted from marches organized by Occupy Seattle as part of a nationwide, one-day "general strike,"and by immigrant-rights advocates who traditionally hold a May Day march.
"I don't like seeing the city destroyed," City Councilmember Bruce Harrell said. "This is not at all within the spirit of May Day celebrations."
Just after noon Tuesday, about 75 so-called "Black Bloc" anarchists broke off from a larger "anti-capitalist" march at Westlake Park. They sped through downtown, smashing windows at banks and national retail chains as well as the William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse at Fifth Avenue and Spring Street.
"All hell broke loose," said David Madden, a spokesman for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to people breaking windows, someone tried to ignite an incendiary device constructed from an orange-juice container, but it didn't go off.
Seattle police later arrested a man carrying several similar devices in a backpack.
"Whatever their cause, the individuals responsible for today's violence did not further it with this kind of behavior," federal Judge Richard Tallman said in a statement.
The vandals ran back to the retail core, slashing car tires and smashing storefront windows. Police briefly sprayed tear gas, but the vandals largely melded back into the crowd at Westlake, quickly changing out of their black clothes.
Some stores were tagged with graffiti: "Death to Capitalism" sprayed on a window at NikeTown, and a green anarchist symbol left on a Porsche Cayenne.
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