Urban Politics #78: Canceled Millenium Celebration


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Canceled Millenium Celebration

The Mayor’s decision, with the City Council concurring, to cancel this evening’s Millenium Celebration at the Seattle Center has rightfully disturbed many citizens.

The decision to do so was not taken lightly. Any curtailment of our citizens’ cultural activities because of the fear of terrorist harm is a sad commentary on the exploitation that can be made of our open democratic society.

One can disagree with the significance of the facts that lead up to the decision to err on the side of safety in canceling the evening’s celebrations, but I believe they provided a strong and relevant pattern of events (albeit circumstantial) leading to possible harm to a large public gathering.

Those items that most stand out in my mind are the following: 1. The arrest of a person linked to a known terrorist group at our border who had rented a room near the Seattle Center. He was carrying sophisticated plastic explosive material and according to experts it was capable of blowing up a building (Oklahoma City revisited?).

2. A suspected accomplice remained at large until yesterday.

3. There is a historic pattern of extremist groups exploiting events with international media attention. Seattle Center’s Millenium was scheduled for coverage on CNN, unlike past Seattle New Year’s celebrations.

4. Also Seattle may be emerging as a symbol of America’s Metropolis of the next Millenium because of the vast number of high tech millionaires living here and our recent hosting of the WTO Conference. Nevertheless we are still a mid-sized city with limited security resources, making us potentially a big exposed target.

Do these conditions present any solid evidence of a plot to explode a bomb at the Seattle Center? The answer is obviously no. But do they represent conditions, which have not existed before? Yes. And were they unique to Seattle. Yes, again.

Given this situation, one has to ultimately weigh what was being sacrificed and was being gained in making the decision to cancel the evening’s celebration. We were curtailing our freedom to celebrate openly and we were letting fear affect our agenda. On the other hand, we were taking precautions to not place 40,000 people in possible harms way.

Some have argued it was worth the risk, given the lack of solid evidence. They may be right. If one uses that argument one could also argue that we should have invited families to purposefully bring their children to the Seattle Center to show the world that we felt safe from terrorism. But the City, by inviting them, would in essence be giving them a sense of secure safety. And if something did happen, what would we say to them? It was only 99% secure? Of course we could have advertised the event as 99% secure from terrorist attack and say “Come on over and don’t worry about that 1%.”

Many of my single friends, decided they would avoid going to the Seattle Center to celebrate. Why? In short they felt spooked about the potential for terrorist violence and they could celebrate somewhere else just as easily.

Those friends who do have children or grandparents, who would have gone to the Center, felt even more strongly about not attending. The cancellation of a touring Circus’s last performance at the Seattle Center on New Year’s Eve because of a significant drop in ticket sales may reflect that general attitude among families.

Given the security precautions that the city has taken and the probable breakup of a terrorist incident, I expect and hope that nothing horrible will happen tonight.

As an aside, I have written to Police Chief Norm Stamper and requested that all officers working tonight be wearing clear identifications. I want our citizens to be able to see the name and badge number of our Police Officers tonight and throughout the year.

In hindsight, which is always 100% correct, on Monday morning we may conclude that perhaps we should have proceeded without altering our original plans. There is no way of ever knowing for sure but given what we did know I believe we have made a difficult choice to act with reasoned caution.

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