Seattle police hope to strike balance at May Day protests

Seattle police hope to strike balance at May Day protests »Play Video
A Seattle Police officer swings his baton at protesters during a May Day march that began as an anti-capitalism protest and turned into demonstrators clashing with police, Wednesday, May 1, 2013, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SEATTLE -- Police commanders laid out their strategy to clamp down on street chaos this May Day while still allowing people to exercise their free speech rights.

They also reached out to more business owners this year, including merchants along the Pike/Pine corridor.

This May Day, Dave Nelson plans to keep serving pizza at his Capitol Hill restaurant even though an anti-capitalist march is staging just a block away.

"It's just business as usual. I think that's the way to take it," Nelson said, who own Hot Mama's Pizza.

Last year.. protesters smashed windows at several capitol hill businesses following violent clashes with police. Nelson hopes it was a fluke, and won't happen again later this week.

"I don't think that anarchists would be targeting small businesses. The majority of the businesses up here are locally owned small businesses," he said.

Seattle police are working to avoid a repeat of the street chaos while still respecting protesters' rights.

"I want people to know that we really truly want them to come downtown and express their free speech," said Capt. Chris Fowler, who along with Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh is overseeing the Seattle Police Department's May Day operations.

For now, the plan is to allow demonstrators to occupy streets, stop traffic, and potentially even surround cars. Police say there are limits.

"If you're here to cause problems or hurt people, we're going to take that very seriously," McDonagh said, clarifying that any serious property crime or acts of violence will result in arrests.

The Downtown Seattle Association is activating an email service the day of the march. More than 220 business owners have signed up for the alerts through a system called EventTrac.

"We're able to send real time emails to businesses and property owners who are on the parade route or in the area where people are protesting," said Kate Joncas of the Downtown Seattle Association.

Seattle Central Community College is canceling 79 classes and closing early, before two anti-capitalist marches begin. Other businesses are taking in sidewalk tables and chairs so protesters have fewer things to throw through storefronts.

Nelson hopes any problems just pass by.

"There could be some protesting for sure," he said. "I don't think it needs to be a violent, anti-capitalist day."

There is a workers' rights rally that starts at Judkins Park, and while police will be there, it's generally peaceful. The bigger concerns are two un-permitted, anti-capitalist marches that start after 6 p.m.