[P]olice arrested about 200 demonstrators gathered in Westlake Park -- primarily for pedestrian interference and obstructing an officer -- without any individualized evidence that they had broken the law.It always chaps my hide when violent protesters - or those who refuse to self-police their fellow protestors - whine about the violations of their rights. The rest of the people of the city, who actually work and contribute to the economy, could not get to work, suffered tremendous damage to their property, and in many cases, feared for their safety. I would love to see a class action suit from those folks against the professional protest groups who spearheaded the destruction.
In pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, the city recanted earlier testimony and admitted that the police didn't order the demonstrators to disperse before arresting them. Once they were in custody, police used a boilerplate, photocopied arrest record for everyone.
(All of this property destruction and wasted tax dollars, I might add, in the name of restricting the ability of the Third World to join our prosperity by denying them the ability to engage in capitalism. American liberals love the myth of the Noble Savage, and will fight to preserve it - wishes and life expectancy of said "savages" not withstanding.)
But even if these particular people weren't breaking the law, should a different standard apply when a city is under siege? When large groups have broken into full scale riot, arson has been attempted and is being threatened, city and personal property is being destroyed, and the safety of innocent citizens city-wide is in question, should we be as strict with standards of probable cause as we would be with an individualized suspect at a routine traffic stop?
When a large disaster takes place which injures many people at once, acceptable standards of medical care change. Doctors in a triage situation make decisions they would never make even in an emergency room. They give up on certain patients who might otherwise be saved, they
provide the most cursory of diagnoses, and they don't bother with minor injuries that otherwise would be treated to prevent infection. We accept and understand this change of standards, because we understand the heightened danger, limited resources, and speed at which decisions must be made requires it.
The same thinking should apply to police responses when civil order has broken down, and the city faces immediate and direct threats to the safety of a city's property and citizenry. "Probable Cause" should encompass the situation - groups of protesters ignoring the police are more likely to break the law when wide-scale lawlessness brought about by their fellow protesters is already underway. We can't and shouldn't issue blank checks to riot police, but we need to be honest with the way riots and their participants work.
The price of not doing that is to allow riots to become even more violent, and indeed deadly. This is not idle conjecture, but exactly what happened in Seattle two years later when Mardi Gras revelry became violent, but the mayor and the police were afraid of "over reacting." The results were far worse riots (despite fewer people being involved), leaving one man dead. And I believe that Seattle's current rise in violent crime is directly related to a continuation of this failure to learn the right lessons from the WTO disaster.
In the meantime, the best way for hippy protesters to safeguard their rights - and ours as well - is to behave and police themselves. If civil disorder and property damage is threatened every time a rally takes place, then we'll start seeing some real encroachments on free speech and assembly. Licensing schemes will become more onerous, police will become less willing to hope for the best before they start swinging batons, city officials will face enormous incentive to lie, and an even wider swath of innocent bystanders will be impacted.
By using the circumstances of an arrest to more correctly define the law under which that arrest occurred, to include giving the police more leeway in times of emergency and large scale disorder, we will actually protect our rights. But if these protesters are successful in suckerpunching the city yet another time, this time with costly lawsuits, all of our freedoms will suffer.