August 11, 1969: The Ave Riots

University Way Northeast and Northeast 43rd Street during the Ave riots Stan Stapp

University Way Northeast and Northeast 43rd Street during the Ave riots
Stan Stapp

The summer of 1969 was a time of infamous turmoil in several major American cities, including Seattle. On the date in focus here, a series of riots began in the University District that would shake University Way Northeast — a.k.a. “The Ave” — over several days. During that week, street people on The Ave would battle with Seattle police, leading to multiple arrests and injuries and much vandalism and looting. While the origin of the riots remains contentious today, the aftermath would lead to significant changes in the character of the U District, both as a neighborhood and as a community.

The Ave riots were preceded by an incident across town in West Seattle the previous evening during a Sunday night rock concert at Alki Beach. Despite the concert being an officially permitted event, several Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers on the scene began harassing attendees. In response, someone — allegedly a member of a local motorcycle gang — dumped a container of gasoline into the back seat of an SPD patrol car and threw in a lighted match, setting the car ablaze. SPD, in counter-response, abruptly declared the concert over, donned riot gear, and began throwing canisters of tear gas into the crowd — not ordinary tear gas, but rather the CS variety, which sickens its victims. The thick toxic fumes drifted into the nearby neighborhood, thus transforming a peaceful rock concert into a major public disturbance.

The following day, in the U District, many regular denizens of The Ave shared news of the Alki fracas with disgust. SPD harassment of youth — especially countercultural youth — was a regular fact of life in that neighborhood at that time. (It was also then a regular fact of life citywide, which partially explained the heavy SPD presence at the Alki concert.) In fact, SPD presence in the U District had recently been doubled by Seattle’s acting mayor Floyd Miller as part of a crackdown on drug traffic in the neighborhood. Thus, as the evening of August 11 arrived, many on The Ave were ready for a confrontation with the cops.

And thus, the first riot on The Ave that week began at approximately 9 p.m. that night, when a random young man kicked over a trash can at the intersection of Northeast 42nd Street and The Ave. According to witnesses, SPD officers standing nearby quickly grabbed and handcuffed the vandal. His girlfriend then objected, screaming at the officers and pleading for bystanders to intervene. When the cops grabbed her next, one brave bystander punched one of the cops, Officer Mike Bolger, in the jaw, and the scuffle quickly escalated into a riot. Spectators began throwing everything they could get their hands on. Bricks struck two other officers, Marvin Queen and Thomas Grabicki, and a stray object shattered the window of the Coffee Corral, a popular hippie hangout on the southeast corner of that intersection.

By 9:30 p.m., the crowd of rioters had grown to roughly 150. Witnesses later noted that many in the crowd had also been present at the Alki fracas. More police soon arrived, along with a TV news crew, but by 10:15 p.m. the rioters had drifted away and the police withdrew. All in all that night, seven rioters were arrested and three SPD officers were injured.

The next day, August 12, the U District was buzzing with news of the previous night’s incident. While The Ave was quiet that night, and SPD then kept a low profile, the following night would be a different story entirely.

While the riot on August 11 may have been politically motivated — some attributed it to the antiwar activists who were a regular part of the Ave scene at the time — the rest of the week’s rioting was evidently the initiative of restless teenagers from across the city coming to the U District strictly for kicks, lured by news of Monday’s incident. The most intense and destructive of the riots would occur on the nights of August 13 and 14 — and most regular U District denizens who witnessed the riots later claimed they did not recognize most of the participants on those nights.

The evening of August 13 began with a spontaneous community meeting of about fifty people at 7:30 p.m. on “Hippie Hill,” the stretch of lawn on the University of Washington campus near the intersection of 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 42nd Street, then a popular gathering place among Seattle’s countercultural community. The meeting was called to discuss the recent disorder in the U District. Much anger was vented there concerning SPD harassment, but the apparent consensus was that people should avoid further cop confrontations.

Among the topics of discussion was a pair of flyers that had been circulating in the neighborhood since the morning of August 12. One urged calm in the name of “the New American Community,” while the other was unsigned and much more militant, bearing a sketch of a pistol with the caption “We’re looking for people who like to draw,” an apparent parody of the matchbook ads for art school so common at the time — and an obvious attempt at violent provocation.

After the meeting on Hippie Hill adjourned around 8:30 p.m., several attendees headed towards The Ave and immediately noticed two strange things: there were no police visible anywhere; and The Ave was filled with hundreds of teenagers, both white and Black, whom no one at the meeting had ever seen in the U District before. All was calm until around 9:30 p.m., when a group of the unfamiliar teenagers began looting Bluebeard’s, a hippie boutique on the western side of the 4200 block of The Ave. Several locals tried to intervene, proclaiming that Bluebeard’s wasn’t the enemy — but to no avail.

Meanwhile, no police appeared, despite the returning chaos. Someone dragged a trash can onto The Ave and lit it on fire — still, no police came.

Outside Bluebeard's boutique, August 13, 1969photographer unknown

Outside Bluebeard’s boutique, August 13, 1969
photographer unknown

The cops finally appeared at precisely 10 p.m., when a banshee wail erupted from the roof of the Adams Forkner Funeral Home on the eastern side of the 4100 block of The Ave, where SPD had installed a “howler,” a high-frequency noise generator designed to disorient crowds. Moments later, a loudspeaker announced, “You are ordered to disperse. If you do not disperse, you will be removed by force.”

Soon afterwards, scores of Tactical Squad officers in full riot gear charged onto The Ave from nearby alleys, and CS gas grenades began exploding. The rioters, undeterred, began pelting the police once again. As the chaos quickly escalated, trash cans were ignited to bait the police, parking meters were smashed, and stores were looted. Meanwhile, on 15th Avenue Northeast, a mobile crane was set on fire, and when firemen arrived they had to withdraw under a hail of stones.

Around 11 p.m., the Neptune Theatre’s evening showing of Franco Zeffirelli’s hit film Romeo and Juliet ended, and hundreds of moviegoers — many themselves young people, the film’s target audience — exited into the middle of the chaos. They were promptly attacked and gassed by police as they attempted to return to their cars. Amazingly, SPD never blocked off traffic along The Ave, and several motorists at the intersection of The Ave and Northeast 45th Street found themselves trapped among clouds of tear gas and agitated hordes of teens and police.

The chaos that night continued until 3 a.m., and the night of August 13 ended with 21 rioters in jail and three SPD officers in the emergency room.

The night of August 14 was almost an exact replica of the previous night. As dusk fell, roughly two thousand young people from outside the U District gathered on The Ave, obviously anticipating further violence. The events of the previous night began to replay promptly at 10 p.m., when a group of teenagers broke into a TV repair shop on the northwest corner of The Ave and Northeast 43rd Street, and also began looting other stores nearby.

Squads of cops quickly appeared at that intersection, coming from both north and south and surrounding a crowd of about two hundred, while a truck-mounted howler sonically swept the street. The cops ordered the encircled mass to disperse — but when the officers moved in, there was nowhere for the crowd to go. Finally, the police opened a narrow gap onto 43rd Street, and people ran out through a gauntlet of clubs and fists.

Another crowd gathered at Northeast 45th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast and trashed the brand-new plate-glass windows of the Pacific National Bank building before police chased them away. Eventually, the cops grew tired of the cat-and-mouse fracas and closed The Ave to automobile traffic, then gassed the street from 42nd to 45th with foggers and grenades. All in all that night, the police arrested 21 rioters and roughed up five local news reporters, including KOMO-TV’s Don McGaffin and Brian Johnson. Order was finally restored just before one o’clock in the morning.

On August 15, in the aftermath of the riots, SPD finally detoured traffic from The Ave while volunteers spread out to prevent any further unrest among teenagers. As the community discussed what to do next, everyone agreed that SPD could neither prevent nor contain any further violence in the neighborhood. The city was considering ordering a curfew and summoning the National Guard when a delegation of community leaders from the U District met with Acting Mayor Miller and Deputy Mayor Ed Devine. After that meeting, SPD agreed to step back and let the community try to handle the situation.

SPD closed The Ave to traffic at dusk and parked several hundred Tactical Squad officers out of sight nearby, while several volunteers wearing peace-symbol armbands spread out along The Ave. Whenever a significant number of teenagers gathered there, street monitors stepped in to prevent any attempts at looting or vandalism. The same tactic was repeated the following night with equal success. By Sunday, August 17, The Ave was back to normal and SPD finally withdrew.

The success of the U District community’s response to the Ave riots led to months of negotiations among street people, merchants, residents, clergy, students, police, and city officials, all aiming to reduce police harassment and to establish a community center. Not all of this coalition’s goals were realized, but the U District would become a much more closely-knit neighborhood as a result of the collective catharsis.

Among the other aftermaths of the Ave riots, several of the women who participated later came together and formed the core of the Seattle Weathermen — crucially including radical feminist and antiwar activist Susan Stern (1943-1976), who later became one of the legendary Seattle Seven. Stern would eventually present her own particular interpretation of the sociopolitical context of the Ave riots in her 1975 memoir With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman.

Helix, August 14, 1969

Helix, August 14, 1969

Who provoked the Ave riots? Some said it was political agitators; some said it was juvenile delinquents; some said it was the cops. For a few years prior, Seattle police had been constantly harassing countercultural youth, mostly at the behest of business owners in the U District and elsewhere in the city who loathed the hippies’ local presence. While SPD Chief Frank Ramon told The Seattle Times that the riots were simply “violence for the sake of violence,” members of the local countercultural press had a much different explanation. In a commentary on the riots published the following week in Helix — then Seattle’s reigning underground newspaper, founded in the U District — Helix editor Walt Crowley (1947-2007) explained the profoundly volatile situation which had likely set the stage for the riots:

“Since 1966 when the aberrant individuality of the Beatniks gave way [to] en-masse migration of middle-class youth from the suburbs, the University District has become the scene of ever-growing police harassment and internal conflict. Merchants and long-time residents, disturbed by the influx of unorthodox young people, loitering and drug traffic, have applied economic pressure against their long-haired tormentors and sought police cooperation. In the name of ‘cleaning up the District’ hippies have been discriminated against by retailers, restaurants, and realtors. They have been subjected to arbitrary law enforcement, harassment, and brutality and humiliation at the hands of the police. Thus over the past four years the tension has slowly grown and the antagonism between the various sectors sharing this same geographical area has deepened and entrenched.”

Despite the initial drama and trauma of the Ave riots, positive and permanent outcomes resulted from the event, including and especially the annual University District Street Fair, Seattle’s first modern street fair, which continues today. Organized by the University District Chamber of Commerce as one means among many of healing the neighborhood in the wake of the riots and other tumultuous events in the U District during the preceding year, the first University District Street Fair was held during the weekend of May 23 and 24, 1970.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Lou Corsaletti, “Tear Gas at Alki Beach Justified, Says Ramon,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 1; Roger Yockey, “Gas Bomb Flies Into Home, Explodes,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 4; John Hinterberger, “Beach Residents Still Smarting From Leftover Tear Gas,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 9; Paul Henderson, “Police Study Damage, Complaints After Alki Disturbance,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 9; “3 Officers Hurt in Melee,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12, 1969, p. 1; “Ramon Claims Alki Tear Gas ‘Best Alternative’ in Fray,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12, 1969, p. B; Lou Corsaletti, “U. District, Alki Disorders Planned, Says Chief Ramon,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 1; John Hinterberger, “Merchants Worried, Relieved After Fracas,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 15; Mike Wyne, “3 Officers Hurt In Youth Melee,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 41; “‘Fed Up,’ Says U Area Merchant,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 13, 1969, p. 1; “After Tear Gas, Child Fears Police” (letter to the editor), The Seattle Times, August 13, 1969, p. 11; Walt Crowley, “Power vs. People,” Helix, August 14, 1969, p. 2; “Police Battle Rock-Hurling, Looting Gangs in U District,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “U District Has Look of War,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 14, 1969, p. 12; John Hinterberger, “Police Showed Restraint Before Violence Erupted in U. District,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “Chief Ramon Calls Violence ‘Planned Attack on Police’,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “University Area Merchants Urge ‘Reasonable Force’,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 3; Shelby Gilje, “‘Unbelievable’: U. District Movie Treat Turns To Terror for Mother, 2 Girls,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 7; Mike Wyne, “21 Arrested, Three Injured as Youths, Police Battle,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 8; John Hinterberger, “It Began on 2 Notes: Retaliation . . . Restraint,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 8; “Police Riot-Control Tactics” (editorial), The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 10; “Looting, Smashing Youths Run Wild On U Way Again,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. 1; “U District Merchants Support Police Action,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. B; James C. Lewis, “(Teary) Eyewitness at Riot,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. B; “Mayor Studies Need For U. District Curfew,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 1; Mike Wyne, “23 Persons Arrested,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; “Injured,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; Susan Schwartz, “Some Watched, Others Acted,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; “Police-Baiting That Backfired” (editorial), The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 10; “Clothing Store Loot Loss $2,012,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 16, 1969, p. B; “Lull Settles on U District,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 16, 1969, p. B; Mike Wyne, “Role-Switching Works to Cool U. District,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; “Bluebeard’s Loss Exceeds $2,000,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; Julie Emery, “U. District ‘Cool-It’ Movement Praised,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; “15 Plead Innocent To U. District Disturbance,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; “Police Force In U District To Be Cut,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 17, 1969, p. 6; Don Hannula, “U. District Acts to Defuse Tensions,” The Seattle Times, August 17, 1969, p. 1; “Candidate Criticizes Unrest Handling,” The Seattle Times, August 17, 1969, p. 25; Michael J. Parks and Paul Andrews, “The University District: Both Sides Share Blame, Witnesses to Disorders Agree,” The Seattle Times, August 17, 1969, p. 49; “Helix Riot Report,” Helix, August 21, 1969, p. 8; Susan Stern, With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman (Doubleday & Company, 1975; Rutgers University Press, 2007); Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 1995).

About radsearem

Jeff Stevens is a Seattle native and author of the forthcoming City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle.
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4 Responses to August 11, 1969: The Ave Riots

  1. Hubert Miller says:

    I was at one of the Ave riots, don’t recall what night, but an odd thing was the presence of a small group of blacks at the otherwise overwhelmingly white event. As I recall, the tension was palpable and escalating by the minute , everyone expecting, just waiting for “something”. That something was the black youths, exploiting the protection of the thick crowds pressing all around, smashed the glass of Bluebeards, grabbed the expensive prestigious leather jackets, and then disappeared from the area posthaste. The break-in brought the police and then was followed by more breaking and stoning. I was among the crowd stoning the bank building at 45th Street. While running on the n’west corner of UW grounds from the police, I felt a big thump on my back. I thought a tear-gas grenade had landed on my back, but when I turned my head, I saw a cop with baton raised chasing me. I upped my speed and escaped. Over the years I came to reflect that he could as easily have clubbed my head and downed me. Over the years I came to realize i learned a lesson in right behavior and social cohesion from that modest clubbing. It is also true that cops have always been able to do ugly things under cover of the law and anonymity – one friend was just sitting on his front porch on riot night, doing nothing, this blocks from the action, when passing cops stopped to spray him with tear gas. I was arrested one ( minor consumption of alcohol ) and one fellow arrestee with longer hair was threatened to be beat up by a cop at the Wallingford station for “looking like a queer” – other cops grabbed the tough guy cop and restrained him. Still, I was a longhair in those days and I didn’t find police actions generally very oppressive – we were not quite the “repressed minority” of our pretensions, and certainly nothing to validate the mindless mob violence of those nights, which was just youthful resentment and vandalism with a thin rationale of political complaint. Those events did nothing to advance the cause of Vietnam war de-escalation or drug laws reform.

    • patmonk says:

      I remember it well. I was one of the small group that ‘liberated’ KUOW and ran it as ‘Radio Freaks Seattle’ for a few months. Also a member of the SLF “Hydra” collective, ‘Country Doctor’; SkyRiverRockFestival; diverting march onto the freeway on-ramp causing shut down. It was quite a trip looking back and seeing the marchers following us.
      The Panthers and the emerging ‘Women’s Lib’ movement were a critical component in our actions.
      The struggle continues.

  2. Matt Broze says:

    Matt Broze’s eyewitness report:

    My brother (then age 21), a friend, and I (23) attended the Sunday evening August 10, 1969 concert at Alki Beach. My brother had previously played drums in a band with the keyboard player of the last band to play that evening.

    Here is what I saw and heard.
    On the way to the concert as we drove along Harbor Ave, a mile or more before Alki Beach, we drove by a line of police cars parked along the right side of the road. Each police car had four police officers inside. We had never seen that many officers in a police car and wondered what was going on. Arriving at Alki Beach we found parking several blocks away and then a patch of sand in the middle of an audience of mostly younger people like ourselves. However, some members of the audience were less than a year old and others were over 60. At one point (I’d guess between 7 and 7:50PM) we witnessed a beach wide line of police officers moving through the audience from the back towards the front. For the most part they went unnoticed by the audience further forward who were focused on the music. As the officers moved forward they poured out the contents of all the wine or beer bottles they came across along the way and left the empty bottles where it was dumped. Alcohol was not permitted in Seattle parks, but as far as I saw, no one was arrested or even seriously hassled about their beverages. I don’t recall any significant protests about the confiscation coming from the audience either.

    A little later I noticed some of the crowd well behind us was looking back and towards the street. I moved up as far as the sidewalk to see if I could see the cause. I didn’t see anything but I heard from some others that a police car had been on fire and that the fire had been extinguished. The rumor I heard a little later was that the police had confiscated a keg of beer from a group of “bikers” and that one of the bikers had later siphoned some gas out of his motorcycle’s gas tank and poured it into an open window of one of the (apparently unguarded) police cars and threw in a lighted match. The excitement near the back of the long narrow (beach wide) audience apparently concluded, the crowd again focused most of their attention on the music.

    At around 8PM, when the last band, which included my brother’s former band mate, was about to play we moved up to the front of the audience near the band. At one point, around 8:50PM or a few minutes later, I think it was during the band’s final number, the music suddenly stopped. There was no music for several minutes and then someone looking for the cause found that a plug in the extension cords located behind the band had somehow come apart and plugged it back together. Power reestablished, and still with a few minutes before the 9PM permit deadline, the band continued playing their final number.

    Upon hearing some loud pops behind me, I thought “what kind of an idiot would throw firecrackers into a crowd”. I turned around just in time to see a flash and hear another loud pop happen right in a baby’s lap about 20 feet behind me. The baby was in the lap of a sitting man I assumed to be its father. I was afraid the baby might have been seriously hurt and horrified that anyone would do such a dangerous thing as throwing big firecrackers in a crowd. Just then my friend said “tear gas, run”. At the same instant I got a whiff of that nose searing chemical and took off running. We ran forward past the band area until we were far enough away not to be in any immediate risk of breathing more tear gas. We stopped and looked back to see a melee. Those who had been forced to run the other way by the tear gas (almost the entire audience) were being clubbed by baton wielding police. I also recall seeing some empty wine jugs arching through the air as well. A gasping, out of breath old man, probably in his late 60’s or 70’s, stopped next to us to catch his breath. Between gasps, and with a bewildered look on his face, he kept muttering over and over: “I didn’t see anybody doing anything wrong”. I suggested to him that the next time he read about an anti-war riot he should remember this incident. A police car was moving East in the parking area next to the beach and a guy waved him down by swinging both arms back and forth, palms forward, above his head. The police officer stopped and opened his side window and the guy kicked the officer right in the face. The officer grabbed the kicker’s leg and the kicker’s cowboy boot came off in his hands. The kicker escaped on foot. I recall thinking that the angry guy was probably the father of the baby in whose lap I’d seen the tear gas grenade explode.

    My brother’s most vivid memories were the popping of the tear gas canisters and the keyboard player he knew, Randy Johnson, steadfastly sitting at his piano while being enveloped in a cloud of tear gas. I later heard that when an officer ordered Randy to leave Randy told him there was several thousand dollars worth of musical equipment there and he was staying put to protect it. The officer let him stay. My brother can’t remember the bands name for sure, maybe Cross, but says that one of the that group’s members was guitarist Tim Turner, most noted a little later as the leader of the Seattle band Child.

    Lucky to not have been driven back through that gauntlet of baton swinging police officers, like most of the crowd behind us, we circled around to our friends car on back streets. Driving home we listened to the radio. The news went something like this: “Police responded to a disturbance at Alki Beach. When they arrived their police car was firebombed….” Nothing but information put out by the police department was on the radio news on any channel we heard. Once home I kept listening to the radio to see if any source would make a more accurate report. No news programs did. There was a talk show, I think on KING or KOMO radio, and I listened for quite some time that night hoping to hear a realistic account of what I had witnessed. About half the callers that claimed to be witnesses lived in the neighborhood. They mostly claimed the police were justified in their actions. A much smaller number, who had obviously been there in the crowd and been gassed and clubbed, could only scream emotionally about the Fascist Pigs that had attacked them for no reason. They may have been right, but in their extreme anger they didn’t come across as being very credible. There seemed to be no way through the news media (including the daily newspapers the next day), to get a report that was anything close to the reality of the situation, much less a credible explanation as to why it had happened. Later that first night I called the radio talk show myself and relayed just what I had observed (as written above). Also, at some point after returning home, I found the name of Seattle’s new temporary mayor, Floyd C. Miller, was listed in the Seattle phone book. Although it was late, I called and probably woke him up. I warned him about the anger his police department had unnecessarily unleashed that night that he would no doubt have to deal with the next day.

    When the tear gas canisters had begun popping, I probably had my hands in my pockets and was fingering my keys because somehow I lost my keys out of my pant’s pocket that evening. We couldn’t go back to the beach that night to look for them as the place was dark, heavy with tear gas, and was likely still being patrolled by police. At dawn the next morning my friend drove me back from Rainier Valley to Alki Beach to look for my keys. The beach sand still smelled of tear gas. In the early morning light I found my keys in the sand just about where I had been standing in front of the band when the tear gas grenades had exploded. During the search for my keys, my friend came across an empty tear gas canister in the sand. Though burnt looking, we could see it was labeled “CS”. I learned a little later that CS was the strongest variety of gas being used by US forces in Vietnam. My friend took the empty canister home for a souvenir.
    Following that Alki Beach concert the University District erupted in riots that lasted for a several days. I believe those riots were sparked by the outrage that the concert attendees at Alki Beach felt over the completely unwarranted police attack on many hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent peaceful people. People who were further offended and frustrated by the news media’s blaming them for the incident although they had been causing no trouble.

    At the time, a Seattle Police Officer, Ross Roddam, [if I recall the name correctly and have the spelling right—I can’t find it on the internet] was a candidate for Seattle mayor in the upcoming elections. I wondered, was the riot something police officers cooked up to help elect one of their own, the outspoken “law-and-order” candidate?

    Another possibility might be that the police were, at the least, embarrassed that someone could pour gasoline into the open window of an unguarded police car, and knew they would probably catch hell from their superiors for their security oversight in not protecting their vehicles. Perhaps after a considerable time and discussion, trying to figure out what to do, they decided to escalate the incident into a firebomb attack and a riot (and imply that the firebombing occurred as they arrived to respond to reports of a disturbance at Alki Beach). If so, they didn’t get ready and make that decision to create a riot until the concert was within a few minutes of being over.

    I have little doubt that some Alki residents, who didn’t like amplified rock music, were calling the police with noise complaints, but the crowd was very peaceful, at least until after they were tear gassed, and the free concert was legal, planned and advertised well in advance.

    The police claim they warned the crowd that it was an illegal gathering and the attendees had one minute to disperse. Some of the neighborhood callers to the talk show claimed they heard the police warning. I heard no such warning or order, either directly from the police, or from anyone else in the audience. At what time was this warning supposed to have occurred? If the police had really wanted us to disperse they could have used the band’s sound system to make that announcement. They also had several minutes when the band’s sound system had been accidentally unplugged (at around 8:50PM) to announce a dispersal order. During the several minutes of sudden quiet, any order to disperse using only a police bull horn could have easily been heard by the crowd but no announcement was made during that quiet time. Furthermore, if they wanted the crowd to disperse the police had only to wait a few more minutes and the crowd would have peacefully dispersed all on their own when the band said good night at 9PM. Most likely, the audience would have taken the vast majority of their litter with them at that time as well.

    It is clear that by tear gassing a peaceful concert audience that would be peacefully dispersing on its own in a couple of minutes, the police acted as they did because they wanted to create a riot, for some reason of their own that I still don’t understand, not because there was the slightest public safety need to disperse the crowd at all, much less by using CS gas on them. In fact, the police officers actions created a very life threatening situation for hundreds of people, who, trapped between the CS nausea gas and Puget Sound were forced to run the gauntlet of police clubbing them in order to escape the CS tear gas the police so recklessly deployed into that peaceful concert audience that had moments before been calmly listening to music.
    While the CS tear gas was recklessly deployed, and at least one of the heavy exploding canisters I witnessed landed on a baby, they appear to have been strategically launched to land in locations that would force the vast majority of the crowd back through the gauntlet of dozens of club wielding police officers dressed in full riot gear.

    The idea that police responded to a disturbance (as the news media proclaimed later) implies that the police were called because there was a disturbance. There was no disturbance that I saw. In reality, before the event the police were staged four officers to each of many vehicles parked in a line on Harbor Avenue that we witnessed when we drove past them going to the concert. There were at least six police cars. My best guess, before reading Walt’s HistoryLink account, would have been ten vehicles containing four police officers each. The talk show host I called later told me, and his radio audience, that many policemen in riot gear were always staged nearby for any event with a crowd. I have never seen that near any music event (or any other event with a crowd) before or since. If staging that many officers nearby was not standard operating procedure at the time for a concert event in a city park, then I think this riot must have been planned in advance by the Seattle Police Department, or someone in charge of them, and was not just the result of some embarrassed and fearful (of their superiors) police officers trying to cover up their oversight in not securing and guarding their police vehicles while they were busy wading through the crowd from behind and pouring alcoholic beverages into the sand. The last minute, now or never (because their intended victims are about to all leave the scene in a couple of minutes), nature of this police attack and the extended time that had elapsed (well over an hour) between any sort of possible provocation (the burning police car) and that attack seems to argue for the explanation the police present may have wanted to cover up their lack of security that resulted in a fire in a police vehicle.

    I’d love to get an explanation of what happened and why from an honest police officer who was there at the time One that fit the facts of what I witnessed that evening,.

    [Note: I contacted both my brother and my friend who were there with me that evening to read the draft of this letter before sending it to HistoryLink. I added a few details of what my brother remembered about the band playing. I got this response from my friend: “Your memory of the event is very good. I do not remember anything more or different.”]

    After writing the above I found my (nearly complete) collection of the Seattle underground newspaper Helix and read the two issues following the 8/10/69 attack. The Helix contained a much more accurate account than anything else available in the media at the time. I noted that in the Helix, Walt Crowley had the crowd estimated at around one thousand, rather than the two thousand he estimated in his HistoryLink account. My estimate of the size of the audience on the beach would have been in the 800 to 1000 range. The article confirmed the name of the band was Cross (my brother’s best guess). According to that Helix article it wasn’t until after the band started playing again after being unplugged that the police announced, to the few people who could hear it in the back of the crowd, that they had one minute to disperse and that the attack began nearly immediately after a minute elapsed. That a crowd that size could disperse in one minute, even if they had heard the order, is laughable. Of course if the police gave the crowd any longer the concert would have been over anyway and the crowd would have simply dispersed on its own. So if the police wanted to create a riot and force the crowd to panic and run towards them they had to act very quickly before the concert audience simply went away.

    Matt Broze
    9/24/2011

  3. Eileen says:

    Yes, the Seattle mayoral candidate was Ross “Tex” Roddam. I can confirm this as he was a neighbor of ours, and well-known to my family.

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