Occupy / News / Theater
This Morning, Police Raided a House in the Central District Looking for a Black Hoodie, a Pink Scarf, and "Paperwork—Anarchists" (Or, Since When Are Pamphlets Evidence of a Crime?)
At approximately 5:45 am this morning, L was sleeping in bed with his girlfriend, in his Central District apartment. (L spoke with me before speaking to an attorney, so I've agreed to leave his name out of it until he consults one.) The apartment is on the third story of an old house that's been partitioned off into apartment units.
Around that time, he heard a bang near the main, first-floor entrance. "My first instinct," he said, "was that it was Fourth of July and we were hearing fireworks." Then he says he heard from below: "This is the Seattle Police Department." He hadn't heard fireworks. He'd heard police kicking down his door and throwing flash-bang grenades into the house.
So L crawled out of bed, put on some pants, and knelt on the floor with his hands behind his head—before the police even entered his apartment. L wasn't surprised. He's been a participant in the Occupy events, anarchist circles, and the May Day protests (which thousands of people attended, including myself, in a professional capacity). And in the past few weeks, such people have been visited by FBI agents—who asked them to become informants—and had their houses raided and their telephones confiscated, presumably for social-mapping purposes.
L had heard these stories and was expecting a visit sooner or later. "We knew that SWAT teams tend to come in with automatic guns," he said, "and nobody wanted to test the trigger-happiness of Seattle cops." So they got down on their knees.
He asked the first SWAT officer on the scene three questions:
1. Do you have a warrant?
2. Did you break down the door? ("We rent the place," L told me, "and it'd be a pain in the ass to deal with a broken lock.")
3. Did you knock before you entered? (L said this was his idea of a joke—since he's on the third floor, he wouldn't have heard a knock anyway.)
The SWAT officer, according to L, said "the detectives will be up here soon."
Detective Wesley Friesen (who was busted for drunk driving and threatening to kill his arresting officers in 2004) entered and announced that he was the lead investigator of the May Day smashup. He briefly flashed the warrant in L's face and said he could examine it more closely once the search was over. The morning's occupants of the home—two regular residents and two visitors, including L's girlfriend—had their hands zip-tied and were herded into the living room. Then the search began.
According to the warrant-inventory, signed by Detective Freisen, they took a black sweatshirt, a pink scarf, a pair of black goggles, "papers—notebook," a black bandana, a black stocking hat, and "paperwork—anarchists in the Occupy movement."
L said most of the officers appeared to be from Seattle Police Department, though some had their name tags covered with coats and one appeared to be from the Washington State Patrol. (Why the WSP? The domestic-surveillance information-sharing of our local fusion center might have something to do with it.)
The officers rifled through drawers and closets and knocked books around, including L's Shakespeare books. "It's funny," he said. "When they knocked the Shakespeare books off the shelves, I thought of the line from Coriolanus (a play about a military man who becomes a politician during a period of civil unrest): 'You may as well strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them against the Roman state.'"
Detective Friesen approached L with a stack of photographs, asking him to identify people in them, but L immediately declined to speak without an attorney present.
"If you're gonna refuse to cooperate," L said Friesen said, "this is gonna take a lot longer and be a lot harder for you guys."
The officers rifled through stuff, took stuff, and left without arresting anyone. L said that Friesen gave a parting shot: "You're gonna go to jail after this investigation is over for assault and malicious mischief."
SPD spokesperson Sean Whitcomb said: "I've seen some stuff on social media that has said that this is an overreaction—that a SWAT team doing a search-warrant service for a vandalism investigation is heavy-handed. I'd say the May Day violence was the worst I'd seen since WTO... and not a message to corporations, but to individuals, such as people who had parked on the street and had their car windows smashed out. And incendiary devices such as smoke bombs—knowing what we do about violence across the globe, anytime anyone has an incendiary device, it is a cause of great concern."
Understood. But police seizing political pamphlets as "evidence" for a crime? That seems wrong.
Since when does political writing—even, gasp, radical political philosophy—count as "evidence"? I suppose if you beat someone over the head with a hardback book by Bakunin, that would count.
But last time I checked, pamphlets and unpopular political opinions weren't against the law.