A disturbing trend is developing regarding police pre-emptive response to mass protest. In numerous situations since the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in late 1999, police have issued misinformation claiming unsubstantiated evidence of violent plans by protesters gathering for mass actions. The false information is then used as a pretext for unwarranted police actions.
The misinformation concerning protester plans have ranged from chemical weapons to bomb-making. None of the numerous claims of violent plans have been substantiated. Nonetheless, many media outlets appear to have been predisposed to repeat information provided by police without fact-checking or seeking responses from the organizations accused. The damage to free speech and the mass protest movement has been extensive.
Mass protest of government policies on this continent is at least as old as the property destruction that characterized the Boston Tea Party, involving hundreds of activists in 1773. Since the anti-war protest of the 1960s and anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s, few instances of mass protest have garnered national media attention. That situation changed radically on November 30, 1999 when activists from around the globe shut down Seattle meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This story garnered widespread international attention, fueled further by the violent police response to peaceful protesters and the declaration of a no-protest zone.
The Seattle Police Department reputation was damaged severely by officers