Joe Hendren

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Peaceful WTO protesters win $1 million compensation

It is nearly eight years since the 'Battle of Seattle'* where over 40,000 people converged on the city to show their opposition to the global neo-liberal agenda of the World Trade Organisation.

During these demonstrations 175 people were wrongly arrested for peacefully protesting the WTO in downtown Seattle's Westlake Park. That was 1 December 1999. After 7 long years, the 175 have finally won justice.

In January a civil court jury found the City of Seattle liable for violating the protesters' Fourth Amendment Rights. This legal win follows seven years of determined work by the Public Justice legal team. Facing further litigation for damages, the Seattle opted to settle the case.

The City of Seattle will now
  • pay $1 million to compensate the protesters for the violation of their constitutional rights.
  • seal its own records of the arrests, and will formally request other agencies expunge any records they may have received or maintained regarding the December 1 arrests. One wonders if the NSA/CIA will also obey the law in this instance.
  • Incorporate key rulings from the case into police training. These rulings make it clear police lacked probable cause to arrest the peaceful protesters at Westlake and others arrested outside the 'no protest zone'.
Following a day of widespread but largely peaceful protest Seattle's Mayor attempted to make the downtown area near the WTO meeting off limits - a 'no protest zone' in all but name. Many of those arrested in the zone were held for four days, which just so happened to coincide with the end of the WTO conference. No police officers were reprimanded or disciplined by the City.

This week in New Zealand former National chief of staff Richard Long wrote in a column how he approved of measures to protect visiting Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin from protesters in 1999 because otherwise it might have cost us a free trade agreement. Long and the ex-Seattle Mayor appear to be singing from the same songsheet.

PS: * I nearly avoided the phase 'Battle of Seattle' as I see it as a phrase coined by a media with a far too ready tendency to focus on any apparent 'conflict' as a means of ignoring the real issues raised by the protesters. And talking of a battle discounts the contribution of the majority - those who chose to protest peacefully. But then I found out that the Battle of Seattle also refers to an event in 1856 when native Americans launched an attack on the settlement of Seattle, as they were angered by treaties imposed by Territorial Governor Isaac Steven. Given that the WTO is also criticised for weakening the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide, referring to the events of 1999 as the Battle of Seattle has more meaning than might be first apparent.

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