History Lives in Our Ironwood Sticks

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of The Guardian, Volume 42 issue 7.

There are a lot of transplants in this area. Many of the department’s officers have traveled here from other regions of the country. For those interested in the city’s past, there are great books out there covering different niche’s and historical aspects of the city’s roots, decline, and for better or worse, rebirth. An anarchist recently told officers in the East Precinct that they were, “on the wrong side of history.” Less than a block from his house is a tagging of a burning police officer and the words, “History is Made on the Streets.” An easy statement to make from the sidelines. There is a lot of history here and because so many came from somewhere else there is a lot of unknown history.
Shortly after that conversation with the self proclaimed anarchist who continues to make subversive efforts to deface and defile their neighborhood, those officers were training in the basement of the precinct in anticipation for another round of ‘flash mob’ anti-police demonstration. They held their iron wood bats and practiced double columns and port arms. The antics of the night before was still fresh in their minds. There was one particular protestor, who carried a bull horn and screamed about how they destroyed the middle class and how the neighborhood had become completely gentrified. They apparently meant SPD. The non gentrified cultural elite was wearing an Issaquah Lacrosse sweatshirt. Hardly the image of cultural diversity or anarchy. That same protestor walked the line and attempted to grab officer’s ironwood bats, passively enough to not be advanced upon. Those who have actual ironwood instead of a stick made of rubber or nylon material are fortunate.
There is a picture that hangs in the East Precinct, it’s unknown how much longer it will be there. It portrays the Mounted Police Units chasing down strikers toward waiting paddy wagons during the final days of the strike. It became known as the Battle of Smith Cove. Tensions during the longshoreman’s strike of 1934 were growing and Seattle’s Mayor, John Dore, was hesitant to use the police department in order to assure “future protection from the… longshoreman ‘mob.’” Eventually the newly elected mayor, Charles Smith, declared a state of emergency on June 20th and forced the opening of the port. The mayor ordered 500 new riot clubs for the department. According to legend, the Seattle Police, who were augmented with private security force were in desperate need of proper crowd control equipment. A team of officers liberated the ironwood rollers used by the longshoreman and stevedores. The rollers were used to slide goods to and from the ships throughout the piers. The newly obtained ironwood rollers were then used to hold back the picket lines from attacking the newly hired scabs.
On June 21st, and estimated 600 union workers faced off against the police. When union members saw that the employers were attempting to offload goods from the docks to the trains, they took to the tracks to prevent the engines from moving. The union greased the tracks, blocked trains, and even went as far as boarding the engines and convincing the engineers not to break through the picket line.
During the following month the strikers continued to organize and their numbers grew to nearly 1,200. Police at the piers were attacked by ILA “flying squad” members. The strikers began advancing against the police lines. Deterred by tear gas the strikers were eventually able to break through and take the tracks where they set up encampments. The mayor ordered the police to remove the ILA from Smith Cove. The picture hanging in the roll call room of the East Precinct captured that moment. Mounted units chasing strikers down the tracks to paddy wagons waiting at the other end. The caption beneath the picture says, “The mounted unit was disbanded shortly after this incident.” The mayor later ordered the new police chief to mount machine guns at the pier. These pictures are hang on the walls too. The Chief of police initially refused and when the mayor insisted, the Chief handed over his badge saying, “You get someone else to do your scabherdin.” Several days later the union voted on an arbitrator’s proposal and within a week the union returned to work. All of this occurred in an epic time of our country, in the midst of the great depression, rampant bank robberies, and a westward expansion. In fact, the day before the union agreed to end the strike notorious bank robber John Dillinger was gunned down. These were the times that were the backdrops of a lot of the great novels of our century.
Protest have come a long way from the days of teamsters combating scabs with brass knuckles and 2x4s to small demonstrations led by adults in a state of arrested development dressed up as self proclaimed super heros. It’s rumored SPD is the only department in the country to use ironwood unusual occurrence gear. It’s a little piece of history officers carry in their trunk that allows them to stand the line like their brothers in blue who have gone long before them.

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