by Rod Lotter
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Seven months ago, on May 1, downtown Seattle was in disarray. Thousands of protestors took the streets, most to support International Workers Day and to protest the capitalist system, but some used that premise as a guise. A band of black clad protestors, referred to as “The Black Bloc,” had a different idea in mind: the idea to riot.
More than $100,000 in damage was done to the Federal Courthouse building, a Wells Fargo, Nike Town, American Apparel and a host of other businesses and buildings in the area. When the smoke cleared, the pepper spray subsided and the riot shields put down, the damage was evident.
Since the May Day riots, the Seattle Police Department, with aid from Federal investigators, has sought out information, made arrests and brought the suspected culprits of the melee to court.
On Dec. 3, five of the people suspected of causing this damage went to court to face charges of rioting, second-degree malicious mischief, property damage and fourth-degree assault.
The charges stemmed from evidence obtained by the police via raids on houses of suspects and affiliates of the May Day events, anarchist groups and Occupy Seattle members; photos and camera footage taken from the day of the riot and from anonymous tips, among other tactics, according to police documents and posts.
The five who have been charged with crimes are Phillip Neel, Kellen Linnell, Meaghhn Gonzales, Jason Michaels and Matthew Erickson. All have been associated with Occupy Seattle and the Seattle activist scene in one form or another.
All of them declined requests for an interview.
Neel, Michaels and Linnell are charged with second-degree malicious mischief, which is a felony. According to the Washington State Legislature, a person is guilty of second-degree malicious mischief if the person “causes physical damage to the property of another in an amount exceeding $750; or creates a substantial risk of interruption or impairment of service rendered to the public, by physically damaging or tampering with an emergency vehicle or property of the state, a political subdivision thereof, or a public utility or mode of public transportation, power, or communication.” The Class C felony can result in up to five years in prison, a fine not to exceed $10,000, or both.
Neel is also charged with fourth-degree assault. All five are charged with rioting, which is a gross misdemeanor.
Former Occupy member and self-identified anarchist, Ian Finkenbinder, is currently serving as their media representative. Finkenbinder started the Seattle Anti-Repression Committee in response to the recent arrests, which he claims were harassment from the SPD.
So far there have been about a dozen arrests of May Day suspects. At least four cases have been dropped, two are serving suspended sentences, one spent a month in jail and other cases are still in process.
“These arrests are just one more instance in which law enforcement is attempting to suppress and obstruct political activity in Seattle,” Finkenbinder said. “They seem to be doing whatever they can, and pulling out all the stops to get us to stop doing what we’re doing.”
Finkenbinder said he was not willing to comment on the outcome of the case, but is going to schedule a press conference with those being charged within the next couple weeks. He also said they feel that this is not an attempt to bring people to justice, as the SPD has claimed, but rather an attempt to stomp out what remains of the activist community.
Neel was one of the residents of a Judkins Park apartment that was raided by police in July as part of their attempts to collect evidence linked to May Day. Among the evidence the SPD ended up confiscating was a pair of black goggles, a notebook, a pink scarf, a black hoodie and other materials, according to the SPD blotter.
Linnell is reportedly the person who infamously smashed the windows of Nike Town, while wearing a pair of Nike shoes, according to a report by KOMO News.
The latest charges were filed on Nov. 20 by the SPD and were part of an on-going investigation by a special task force assigned to identify and charge the people responsible for the damage. The task force is a combination of prosecutors, police and federal investigators.
The SPD did not respond to requests for interviews in time for publication.
Finkenbinder said that the arrests and charges against the protestors will not stop the movement, and will, in fact, make it stronger. “The attempts to intimidate and harass us has only made us more radicalized and has strengthened our dedication to what we believe in,” he said. “We will keep resisting. They can’t stop that.”