ACLU Report Says Response To Seattle WTO Protests was 'Flawed, Out of Control'

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
July 5, 2000 12:00 am

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SEATTLE — Drawing on more than 500 eyewitness accounts, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State today released a comprehensive examination of civil liberties violations that occurred here last fall during the World Trade Organization conference.

The 95-page report, “Out of Control: Seattle’s Flawed Response to Protests Against the World Trade Organization,” details numerous violations of civil liberties during the conference and presents 12 policy recommendations to protect citizen rights in future protests. The report is being submitted to the Seattle City Council committee examining the handling of the WTO demonstrations.

“With proper planning, the City could have protected the rights both of delegates and of demonstrators. Yet the City’s failure to plan did not excuse violations of civil liberties during the conference,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “While the WTO protests were noisy and disruptive, they did not constitute a riot. Police repeatedly used force — especially chemical weapons — in ways that were more aggressive and heavy-handed than the situation warranted.”

The report draws on more than 500 eyewitness accounts of civil liberties violations submitted to the ACLU via its Web site and in writing. The ACLU report examines civil liberties violations in several areas:

  • Creation of a “no protest zone” that needlessly restricted freedom of speech and assembly.
  • Police command strategies that caused excessive use of force against nonviolent crowds.
  • Acts of abuse by individual officers.
  • Improper arrests and prosecutions and mistreatment of people in custody.

“It is important that we draw the right lesson from WTO,” Taylor said. “The lesson should be that City officials need to take more seriously their responsibility to ensure the constitutional rights of all, not that the City should come down on protesters more harshly.

“If the City does not acknowledge its mistakes, it is doomed to repeat them,” she added. “We urge the City Council to study our recommendations and turn them into ordinances and directives to the Police Department.”

The report is available on the ACLU of Washington Web site at:

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