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News :: Human Rights
Seattle WTO Arrestees Win Class Action Suit
11 May 2004
         Lawyers and activists in Seattle are putting out the ali-ali all come free call to the 155 activists arrested at first and broad streets on December 1st in the 1999 Seattle WTO protests. A class action lawsuit; Hickey v. City of Seattle has been won on their behalf by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) and the City of Seattle is paying $250,000 in damages for wrongful arrest. A second class action suit for people arrested inside the allegedly unconstitutional “no-protest zone” is still underway and awaiting the result of an appeal.
wto-protest.jpg

         Originally this lawsuit was conceived as one action including all 600 Seattle Arrestees, but U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled that the City did not violate the Constitution when it created and enforced a "no-protest zone" during Seattle Mayor Paul Schell’s “state of emergency”. The “state of emergency” was the Mayor’s (and possibly the Clinton administration’s) reaction to large amounts of citizen’s assembling together and speaking their mind in the Seattle streets. This unfortunate ruling caused the TLPJ law team to pursue two separate strategies. One was to appeal this ruling, and continue the argument that the no-protest zone was unconstitutional. The second strategy was to separate the class that was arrested outside the zone. Because a “class” in a suit of this kind is always easier to fight for when it is more narrowly defined, the lawyers chose the largest group of arrestees outside the zone, at first and broad. This group was entirely peaceful and engaged in a sit-down action, locking arms. The police warrants for their arrest were all photocopied from one original, whose author later admitted that, contrary to what was written therein, he did not give warnings and he did not make the arrests.
         "This settlement is a real victory for civil rights and the Constitution," said TLPJ lead counsel Steve W. Berman of Seattle’s Hagens Berman. "It will deter the City and other municipalities around the country from ignoring protesters’ rights and the importance of balancing the desire for security against the legitimate exercise of fundamental constitutional rights."
         This is a settlement, not a judgment, and therefore does not set a legal precedent in the American court system. Nevertheless it is heartening to see the city of Seattle humbled by a group of peaceful protesters and a courageous team of lawyers. The reverberations of this will be felt in future court battles.
         Pre-emptive arrests and police harassment have become the norm at any large protest, and the legal battles surrounding these arrests have become a major front in which pro-bono defense teams such as the TLPJ the ACLU and the NLG are holding the line on our first amendment right to free speech and also our rights to assemble and protest. Very soon that front will be coming to Boston with the upcoming protests surrounding the Democratic National Convention.
         Boston and Cambridge police have already begun a harassment campaign against DNC organizers. Local activists are pointing the finger at the Secret Service as the ultimate source of the actions against them and is does not seem to be an outlandish allegation. Last month they were questioning a 15 year old Oregon boy about a drawing depicting George W as a devil launching a missile, so who’s to say the wouldn’t act a little tougher towards a group of adults that is sick of Bush, sicker of two party politics, and ready to speak up about it? We would all do well to pay attention to how the arrests in Seattle 1999 and all other protests are being justified by the police and the “justice” system. Defense strategies would do well to take into account not only the decision currently at hand in any one case, but also the larger national scene wherein municipalities and larger police organizations such as the Secret Service, the FBI, the Army corps of engineers, and others are attempting to find ways to justify the arrests and harassment of citizens that are justifiably struggling to find a way to reclaim their ability to participate in their own government.
         First and Broad Street arrestees should contact the Hagens-Berman Law firm immediately at Allison@hagens-berman.com or by phone at 1-877-694-0660 (press 9, then 7). The deadline for filing a claim is June 22, other arrestees from Seattle are advised to keep in touch and update their information by emailing WTOARREST@riseup.net. Volunteer Erica K will keep you apprised of upcoming developments in the appeal of Judge Rothstein’s decision.

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Seattle WTO Arrestees Win Class Action Suit
12 May 2004
I was in the Direct Action march and my girlfriend and I were in the fray and in some pretty intense situations. I now live in Boston. This is great news! There was some incredibly 'unAmerican' things going on at WTO, in addition to the 'no protest' zone, they also outlawed gasmasks for citizens (but of course police could wear them)They even harassed people if they were in the no-protest zone and were simply wearing anti-WTO shirts or buttons. When I saw snipers on the rooftops, police videotaping all of us while spraying us with chemicals, I realized that we don't really live in a democracy, but seeing things like this gives me hope!

Wayne
Re: Seattle WTO Arrestees Win Class Action Suit
18 May 2006
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