Being Safe: 2016 May Day, Seattle

April 29, 2016 • 3 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


The Seattle Police Department (SPD) is recommending Capitol Hill and Downtown businesses be on alert for this year’s May Day Seattle parade. Each May 1, El Comité, a Seattle social justice organization, hosts a peaceful march through the streets, in support of justice for immigrant workers and other “socially and economically marginalized communities.” According to the group, the march is held, “In the spirit of unity and solidarity with communities across the country, organizers in Seattle.” Unfortunately, this annual parade, begun in 2006 as a peaceful show of support for immigrant rights, has become an occasion of fear and hostility in the streets of Seattle’s Downtown and Capitol Hill Communities.

May Day Seattle has attracted the attention of, and in some ways been co-opted by, groups and individuals determined to use vandalism and violence to bring attention to political agendas outside the original intention of the May Day parade. While the motivation for this behavior has divided people, regardless of which side one’s on, one thing remains clear: May Day Seattle has been devolving into an occasion for vandalism and destruction.

While past protests tended to focus on the Downtown retail core, stronger police presences there have had the unintended effect of localizing the protest on Capitol Hill. However, even with increasing police involvement in that neighborhood—and, just last year, riots—many local businesses in the Downtown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods are justifiably wary of the parade. Although it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect this May Day, it’s best to be prepared with the most relevant and up-to-date information.

Townsquared partner, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce (CHCC), is no stranger to the fallout from May Day Seattle events and a release to their members this week stated, “Recently these protests have migrated to Capitol Hill and have led to property damage and aggressive behavior that makes residents, employees, business and property owners concerned for their safety.”

Executive Director of the CHCC, Sierra Hansen, has made it clear that the Chamber is actively working with the SPD to mitigate the damage. The CHCC further stated that the SPD “ have the legal right to ensure that the time, place, and manner of the protests do not result in risk to individuals or property. If individuals begin initiating violence, law enforcement will give three warnings. If the warnings are ignored, they will take action to disperse the crowd and help prevent the [destructive] activities.”

Beyond acknowledging Capitol Hill businesses’ May Day concerns, the Chamber also outlined some tips for mitigating danger to yourself and your property:

  • Stay informed about the protest to ensure you are aware of activities that may occur near and around you.
  • Know where fire extinguishers and fire exits are located in your business, home, and other buildings.
  • Watch for suspicious activity and call 911 if you see anything suspicious.
  • Remove outdoor fixtures such as flower pots, chairs, tables, and signs if the protest moves up to Capitol Hill.
  • Consider closing your windows if you hear reports of tear gas or flash bombs being used near your workplace or home.
  • Record and/or save any video from the day in case law enforcement contact you about suspicious or dangerous activities.

Without advance notice of where the disruptive groups may be planning to congregate, it’s impossible to say when and where exactly one should exercise the most vigilance. Given this, it’s best to maintain awareness of your surroundings and stay in contact with your neighbors here on Townsquared, monitor SPD’s Twitter feed, @SeattlePD, and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s Twitter feed, @caphillchamber.

The most current information we have regarding the permitted parade organized by El Comité is as follows:

When: Sunday May 1st, 2016.

A preliminary program will begin at Judkins Park at 1:00 p.m. The march will depart from the starting point at 3:00 p.m.

Where: The march will begin at St. Mary’s Church (611 20th Ave South, Seattle, WA 98144) and will end with a rally at the Federal Courthouse in Downtown Seattle (700 Stewart St., Seattle, WA 98101)


top photo courtesy of Russ Walker


seattle may day safety
El Comité’s 2014 May Day Seattle parade in support of immigrant rights. photo courtesy of Scott Lum

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