Riots: Was race spark that ignited so much rage?
(By Florangela Davila - Seattle Times staff reporter)
Punches were thrown in Pioneer Square - and buttons were pushed throughout
The explosive trigger: race.
On Feb. 27, a crowd of 4,000 converged - some spilling out of bars,
some bringing their own drinks to party in the street - to celebrate
the end of Mardi Gras. As Fat Tuesday wore on, drinking and displays
of nudity erupted into bursts of savagery.
By the time the streets were cleared, one man was fatally injured,
71 people were injured, and property damage was estimated at $80,000.
Citizens were outraged - at the bars who sponsored the event, at
the police who stood by while beatings went unchecked, at the youths
who got caught up in brutal mob behavior.
And that's roughly where agreement ends about what happened in Pioneer
Square that night - and why.
While police, city officials and community leaders try to discover
the spark that ignited so much rage, many of those who watched the
events from afar - on television or through newspaper accounts - quickly
made up their minds.
Fat Tuesday, they concluded, was black-on-white violence.
"I saw young black males hitting innocent bystanders,"
said Andrew Lehtinen, 24, a welder from Seattle. He was in New Orleans
for Mardi Gras this year. He followed news of the Seattle street brawls
on CNN and newspaper Web sites.
"I didn't see any whites beating up blacks - or women, for that
matter," he said. Lehtinen is white.
"I saw the stuff on TV and it was alarming - this sort of gratuitous
violence," said Henry McGee, Jr., 69, a Seattle University law
"There were clearly blacks assaulting whites. I didn't see any
pictures of blacks assaulting blacks," McGee continued. "It's
hard to say whether their motivations had to do with race. I think
the least one can say is that unless the blacks were acting in self-defense
-- and that doesn't come off in the tapes - my guess is there may
well have been a racial dimension to it.
"In any case, it will be perceived as racial." McGee is
On radio talk shows, in chat rooms and in calls, e-mails and letters
to newspapers, the public outcry about Mardi Gras has been tinged
with race, and with accusations that the police and media have ducked
a volatile truth.
"The instigators of these violent acts were black gang-bangers
out to hurt white people," spouted an e-mail from a man calling
himself Wild Bill. "Surely had a gang of white guys beaten up
on a bunch of blacks and killed one ... the coverage would have been
focused on race."
Police and city officials have insisted they can't identify a racial
motive to the Fat Tuesday brawls. Nor have police arrested suspects
in the beating death of Kristopher Kime, 20, of Auburn, who was beaten
to death as he tried to help a woman who had been knocked to the pavement.
Kime was white.
But police have said there was a roving group of young black men
and women who attacked many white partygoers in the crowd. And witnesses
said the man who hit Kime from behind was black.
Public rumblings have accused the police and media of political correctness
- the former when it failed to wade into the crowd, the latter when
it failed to wade into the race issue - for fear of offending the
"Whenever someone white attacks someone black, it's immediately
a racial issue," said Lael Prock, 60, of Mercer Island.
Look how quickly the black community, he said, claimed racial bias behind
last April's police shooting of David John Walker, a mentally ill African
American, after he shoplifted from a Queen Anne grocery. (more...