Teenagers riot in Seattle's University District on August 14, 1969.

  • By Alan J. Stein and Walt Crowley
  • Posted 6/06/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1265
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On August 14, 1969, thousands of teenagers from all over Seattle and the suburbs descend upon the University District. Lured by reports of riots from the previous evening, by nightfall the teens riot anew.

Earlier in the day, University District residents, merchants, and street people convened an emergency community meeting to discuss their dismay over recent riots. Feeling that their turf was being turned into an arena for ritual combat between pigs and punks, they begged police to close off the Ave to traffic and let volunteers patrol the street.

The police replied huffily that they had the situation under control and didn't need help from amateurs.

Famous last words. Promptly at 10 p.m., the events of the previous night began to replay when a group of black teens broke into a TV repair shop on the corner of NE 43rd and University Way. Squads of police appeared from the north and south, surrounding a crowd of about 200, while a truck-mounted howler swept the street.

Police told the encircled mass to disperse but when the officers waded in there was nowhere to go. Finally the police line opened a narrow gap onto 43rd Street, and people ran out through a gauntlet of truncheons and fists.

Another gang of people collected at the corner of NE 42nd, blocked traffic, and ignited a bonfire of trashcans. The police arrived, fired gas, and pursued people down University Way and 15th Avenue NE and even onto campus. Another mob coalesced at NE 45th and 15th and trashed the brand-new plate glass windows in the Pacific National Bank building before police chased them away.

Again and again, clusters of rioters scattered and reassembled to do battle. In the course of the night, the police arrested 21 and roughed up five reporters, including KOMO-TV's Don McGaffin and Brian Johnson. Finally weary of these hit-and-run engagements, the police shut University Way to traffic and systematically gassed the street from 42nd to 45th with foggers and grenades. "Order" was restored shortly before 1 a.m.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 153-154.

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