Vigilantes Pummel Demonstrators at UW in May 1970: An Eyewitness Account

  • By Heather MacIntosh
  • Posted 1/01/1900
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2292

On May 7, 1970, Bill Kennedy, then a University of Washington student, witnessed a surprisingly brutal vigilante retaliation against anti-war demonstrators. He recounts his memories and feelings that day.

Bill Kennedy's Account

"I attended the University of Washington from 1969 to 1973. During these years, the UW was the center of local activity in opposition to the War in Vietnam, and numerous disruptive street demonstrations commenced in the University District.

"I was a participant in a large demonstration in the University District that ended very violently. I believe that it was May of 1970.

"The intersection of 45th and University was filled with demonstrators, when suddenly there was the sound of breaking glass. Someone had broken large plate glass windows in the bank that sits at this intersection.

"Immediately thereafter, the large crowd was attacked by highly organized groups of vigilantes who moved in military formation and were armed with billy clubs. The crowd dispersed in panic.

"I was with a friend who was wheelchair-bound. We fled south as fast as possible -- and took shelter at the new administration building, Schmitz Hall -- where we had a view of the wide grassy median in N.E. Campus Parkway.

"In horror, we watched the median as groups of the vigilantes knocked fleeing demonstrators to the ground and then began to pummel them with their clubs. Groups of four, five, or six vigilantes would surround a victim and repeatedly strike the victim with their clubs.

"Fortunately, no one was killed by the vigilantes. However, some of the victims must have been severely injured. I have no idea how many people were assaulted, but I assume that there must have been dozens of victims.

"In the days that followed, an investigation was launched. I forget who conducted the investigation. It might have been the university.

"I was among the many witnesses who submitted statements at an office set up in the University District. I also talked with many of the other witnesses; and I learned that a number of the vigilantes had been identified as Seattle Police officers.

"Initially, I rejected this. But, then, one of the witnesses pointed out that the vigilantes had moved in strict, military-style formation and all had been armed with identical billy clubs. Indeed, I vividly recalled these weapons.

"It is also important to note that throughout the demonstration and the violent aftermath there was a complete absence of uniformed Seattle Police officers in the area. The vigilantes were free to roam through the University District and assault their victims, in the complete open, for an extended period of time.

"These were tumultuous days, and the War in Vietnam remained the central issue. It is my recollection that the vigilante investigation simply folded and that no further action was taken. No one was charged. That was that.

"Of course, we are all aware that, during the early 70s, the Seattle Police Department was a corrupt organization. I believe that I was a witness to extremely serious crimes committed by numerous (40, maybe 60) members of the Seattle Police Department.

"I suspect that the bank windows were broken by a member of the Seattle Police Department acting as an agent provocateur, and that it was this action that signaled the vigilantes to attack. I also suspect that it was widely known within the department that the vigilantes were cops and that uniformed officers should stay away from the scene for a certain amount of time.

"Indeed, I have often wondered if the vigilante operation might have been 'planned and directed' by the leadership of the Seattle Police Department.

By Bill Kennedy, April 20, 2000


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