Reporter arrested in Seattle protests

Friday, December 3, 1999

Seattle police ...
Seattle police use tear gas to push back World Trade Organization protesters in downtown Seattle on Nov. 30.

(Editor's note: Charges brought against Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kery Murakami were later dismissed.)

SEATTLE — A reporter covering sometimes violent protests this week in Seattle was swept into the story when he was arrested.

Kery Murakami, a reporter covering the World Trade Organization protests for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was among those arrested Nov. 30. In a personal account of his arrest published yesterday, Murakami said police arrested him even after he displayed his credentials.

“In my case, three Seattle police officers slammed me to the pavement, handcuffed me and threw me into the van,” Murakami wrote. “I was charged with failing to disperse even though I showed them reporter's credentials and repeatedly said I was just covering a story.”

Murakami spent the night in jail and was released on his own recognizance the next morning.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press protested the arrest, urging Mayor Paul Schell to ensure that the city doesn't infringe upon legitimate newsgathering in the future.

“These journalists are providing a great public service, and even when they report news that may not place authorities in a flattering light, they are engaged in a constitutionally protected activity,” wrote Gregg Leslie, the group's acting director, in a letter to Schell.

“The citizens of Seattle, and indeed the world, have a right to know what is happening on the streets around the trade conference, and a free, unrestrained news media is essential to that process.”

A Seattle Police spokesman said the department couldn't offer any details or comments on the arrest this morning.

“We're still processing the arrest reports of nearly 600 people,” police Detective Randy Huserik said. “This is information the office isn't getting as quickly as we would like because of the sheer volume of arrest reports and the fact that so many of the protesters aren't cooperating.”

At least 587 people have been arrested since Nov. 30, when tens of thousands of protesters took over the city's core and some smashed entire blocks of storefront windows, spray-painted buildings and slashed police-car tires causing an estimated $2 million in property damage.

Police responded on Dec. 1 with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Schell has imposed a 24-hour “limited curfew” through midnight tonight around the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where trade delegates, media and interest groups from 135 nations are meeting. People in the area can be asked for identification and ordered to leave if authorities decide they don't have a valid reason for being there. City officials yesterday scaled back the curfew area to 17 square blocks around the WTO meetings.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma denied a request on Dec. 1 by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to issue a restraining order to block enforcement of the city's no-protest zone, which banned demonstrators from about 50 blocks surrounding the convention center.

“We continue to be concerned about many reports we've been getting … about the level of force being used against the people who have been nonviolent,” said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig in response to the judge's action.

Late yesterday evening, however, protests for the first time seemed more like a party than a pitched battle with police.

After a rally yesterday, at least 1,000 people marched to the King County Jail at the south end of downtown to express support for those arrested this week.

Motorcycle police escorted protesters to the jail, which is blocks away from the WTO meetings. A huge puppet on wheels, with a gag across his mouth, also led the throng.

“We're here because there are over 100 nonviolent protesters (inside) who were arrested for exercising their right to free speech,” said one man on a bullhorn.

“Free the Seattle 500,” read one sign.

“Let them go!” chanted the crowd. People inside the jail waved to the cheering protesters.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys and city officials worked out a tentative deal allowing lawyers to talk to the jailed protesters, if those rallying outside the jail agreed to leave.

Bail ranging from $2,000 to $50,000 had been set for 14 people facing felony charges of looting, rioting, destruction of property and theft in the Nov. 30 mayhem. If charges are not filed today, they will be released.