Lessons learned after massive ‘float party’ gets shut down in Seattle

Jun 22, 2017, 1:40 PM | Updated: 2:54 pm
A view from Magnuson Park. (TIA International Photography via Seattle Parks flickr)...
A view from Magnuson Park. (TIA International Photography via Seattle Parks flickr)
(TIA International Photography via Seattle Parks flickr)

There are some disappointed swimmers out there after Seattle Parks and Rec and the police department shut down plans for a massive “float party” on Lake Washington.

The “Lk Washington Float Party 2017” scheduled for June 24 was canceled after the organizer received a letter from the city’s parks department on Facebook.

It has come to the Seattle Police Department’s attention that an unpermitted event is planned at either Green Lake or Magnuson Park on Saturday, June 24, 2017, which an estimated 1,500 people are expected to attend,” the message on behalf of the police department from the parks department reds. “Based on the nature of this event, and what has occurred at similar past events, Seattle Police Department is concerned about the safety of both event participants and visitors to Green Lake and Magnuson Parks.

According to the message from the parks department, the organizer of the event applied for a permit but was denied. The department believed people still intended to hold the event, and informed organizers of the law, which states it is unlawful to conduct an event involving 50 or more people in any public park without a permit — a violation can lead to a $500 civil penalty and up to a $5,000 fine for criminal trespassing.

More than 1,600 people said they planned to go to the event on Facebook. At least 14,000 said they were “interested.”

There’s reason to believe that the event organizer didn’t realize that something that began on Facebook and seemed innocent enough was going to get the attention that it has. But, it is clearly stated on the city’s special events page that an approved permit is required, even at a park.

The denial of the permit for this event does raise a question: What would have been the result if it was a free speech event?

First of all, yes, public demonstrations that fit within the definition of a “special event” in Seattle require a permit. Protests and rallies obtain them. But the city has had some difficulty saying no to protests and rallies.

Take the rally by ACT for America on June 10 that was held in opposition to Sharia law. An organizer of that event said he expected violence from a group of people that wouldn’t have otherwise been at City Hall Plaza if it weren’t for that rally. But the city allowed it.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray did condemn the march and rally against Sharia.

“To think that people would come to Seattle and have a hate march against Muslims is reprehensible, but under the First Amendment we’re going to respect their right to free speech,” he said.

And the recent rally in Seattle was permitted after two men were killed in Portland, while protecting two women who were the targets of racial slurs.

Even the ACLU has voiced support of controversial rallies recently, saying free speech outweighs arguments to shut them down.

Of course, the protests and rallies in Seattle are smaller — often much smaller — than an estimated 1,500 or more people. Controlling that kind of crowd would most likely require more than just a few police, because, unfortunately, there are always a few people looking to spoil a good time.

So next time you’re looking to host a summer event in Seattle, just make sure to keep it to fewer than 50 people. Or just say you’re protesting the heat.

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Lessons learned after massive ‘float party’ gets shut down in Seattle