WTO Riots in Seattle
Length: 1251 words (3.6 double-spaced pages)
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The World Trade Organization was established on January 1st, 1995. There are 147 member countries as of April 23rd , 2004. The budget for the WTO is 162 million Swiss francs as of January 1st, 2004. The number of Secretariat staff members is 600. The head staff member is Supachai Panitchpakdi and he is a director-general.
The founding of the WTO primarily the interest of the United States. Just as it was the US which stopped the founding of the International Trade Organization (ITO) in 1948, when it felt that it would not provide an overwhelming economic dominance in the post-war world, so it was the US that became the leading campaigner for the Uruguay Round and the founding of the WTO, when it felt that more competitive global conditions had created a situation where its corporate interests now demanded an opposite stance.
The WTO performs various functions including administering WTO trade agreement, organizing forums for trade negotiations, handling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and cooperation with other international organizations.
On November 30, 1999, the World Trade Organization was going to hold a meeting in Seattle, Washington, for what was to be the launch of a new round of trade negotiations. The negotiations, which were very unsuccessful, were overshadowed by massive and controversial street protests outside the hotels and convention center. They were protesting the convening of the WTO because they believe the WTO puts profits above human rights and environmental concerns, and that its policies reflect the commercial interests of multinational companies. This is the cause of the WTO riots.
Planning for the demonstrations began months in advance and included local, national, and international organizations. Among the most notable participants were national and international non governmental organizations (especially those concerned with labor issues, the environment, and consumer protection), labor unions, student groups, religiously-based groups, and anarchists.
The motivations and intent of many of these groups in the WTO demonstrations differed significantly. Many non governmental organizations came with intentions to participate in the official meetings, while also planning educational and press events. The labor unions organized a large permitted rally and marched from Seattle Center to downtown.
Other organizations were more interested in taking direct action, especially civil disobedience to disrupt the meeting. These groups organized together as the Direct Action Network, with a plan to disrupt the meetings by blocking streets and intersections downtown to prevent representatives from reaching the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where the meeting was going to be held. Though the group was a diverse one, it did settle on a basic motto of nonviolence, including: "We will not destroy property." However, certain activists, most notably a group of mostly-young anarchists, use a more confrontational strategy, and apparently planned deliberate vandalism of properties in downtown Seattle owned by multinational corporations, such as Nike, Starbucks, and various banks.
Damage costs for Seattle were very large. Ranging from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of millions. Seattle has just recently settled a lawsuit with protesters for $250,000, over the WTO police riots. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said the police lacked probable cause to arrest the protesters outside a "no protest zone." Pechman said the police had done an "atrocious" job at record keeping, as well as citing the use of improper warrant and arrest procedures to round up protesters. The total cost to Seattle and surrounding suburbs was about $13 million, not including several pending lawsuits against the city for police brutality. The federal government reimbursed Seattle about $5 million.
Various painful weapons were used on the protesters during the demonstrations of the Seattle WTO riots. The police attacked thousands of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators and bystanders with pepper spray, tear gas, jack boots, truncheons, "flash-bang" grenades, wooden pellets, marbles and hard plastic bullets. Police violently attacked protesters with no provocation whatsoever. That was the case when they were beaten and sprayed, that was the case when downtown was flooded with gas, with helicopters flying overhead shining spotlights down into the crowd. Thousands of police forced protesters out of the downtown area firing canister after canister of tear gas into the crowd.
There were many cases of police brutality and injustices that happened during the non-violent protests. On December 3rd , in Seattle's International District, several eyewitnesses watched an officer attempt to apprehend "Richard" for questioning. Richard was among a small crowd of young African-American men, who immediately dispersed upon seeing the officer's approaching squad car. A short game of chase proceeded in an empty parking lot. Richard refused to comply to the officer's repeated demands to stop, instead he ran back and forth in the lot; he then tried to sprint up Jackson Street. As the officer was frustrated he accelerated his vehicle and ran Richard down. Richard suffered from broken bones. About six hundred of the estimated 50,000 demonstrators in Seattle were arbitrarily arrested for the flimsiest reasons. These people were predominantly middle class whites ranging in age from teenagers to an 83-year-old woman. At the jail, police unlawfully refused them access to lawyers and denied their requests to make phone calls. Others were denied food and water or blankets for hours. Many were not told of the charges against them, and some were physically mistreated. Two art school students were attacked by a sheriff's deputy with pepper spray while they videotaped World Trade Organization unrest from a car December 1999.
There were many forms of uniforms that the police wore during the riots. The most commonly used uniform was the riot gear set-up. They used different types of helmets like the tactical PASGT ballistic helmet which protects you from shrapnel and flying debris, the anti-riot tactical helmets which provides full head protection against rocks, sticks, bottles, acid, etc. made of tough high impact ABS black plastic, impact resistant polycarbonate face shield, adjustable interior webbing to fit all sizes. They also used paintball masks with scratch resistant polycarbonate face shield.
The police used anti-riot shields with tough polycarbonate shield provided full torso protection, aluminum handle, and a web arm strap. They also used tactical protective knee pads made out of cordura nylon over 1/2" foam padding, contoured rubber caps, secure velcro and elastic fasteners. Bulletproof vests were also used but were not needed.
The conclusion by many in Seattle was that the WTO convention was not worth hosting due to the economic damage caused by the protests. Controversy over the city's response to the protests resulted in the disgraceful resignation of Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, and arguably played a role in Schell's decision not to run for re-election in 2001. Similar tactics, on the part of both police and protesters, were repeated at subsequent meetings of the WTO, IMF/World Bank, Free Trade Area of the Americas, and other international organizations. The long-term impacts on WTO policies remained decidedly unclear, and it is an open question whether the WTO's actions since that time have been influenced by the WTO riots.