By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - The Seattle Police Department plans to form a special task force to investigate crimes committed during a violent May Day rally in which eight police officers were injured and 17 protesters arrested, authorities said on Thursday.
The unrest erupted on Wednesday evening at around 6 p.m., two hours after the end of a peaceful May Day march through the city by advocates of U.S. immigration reform, when a separate group of demonstrators began smashing windows and hurling rocks at police and bystanders, police said.
Officers responded by unleashing pepper spray on the unruly crowd and moved in to make arrests.
"Clearly there were people intent on having a confrontation with police," Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson said. "That was their objective, clearly. They were very vocal about that."
It was the second straight year that a peaceful May Day rally was followed by vandalism and clashes between police and demonstrators in Seattle, where vandals shattered the windows of several stores and a federal building in a similar incident last year.
On Wednesday night, vandalism and violence escalated as demonstrators threw large rocks at police, smashed store and car windows, overturned trash cans and lined up newspaper vending boxes to block streets, police said.
According to an account of the unrest posted by police online, some demonstrators began shoving and attacking television news correspondents who were trying to present live, on-air reports from the scene.
One woman driving by the protest was treated for cuts after a protester threw a glass bottle at her car and shattered her window, police said.
Seventeen people were arrested and face charges ranging from assault to destruction of private property, police said.
The department said a task force was being formed that would review photographs and video footage taken of the unrest to look for any additional suspects who might have been involved in criminal activity.
Seattle student Demetrius Walker, 20, attended the rally and said he had attended to protest against economic disparities between rich and poor in the United States, which he called "a huge problem," but was dismayed by the violence.
""I don't agree with all the destruction they are doing here. I think it is meaningless because it doesn't affect anything nationally."
According to a flyer cited by police, the later march was advertised as the "Anti-Capitalist/Anti-State May Day 2013 Rally and March." Organizers of that rally, which police described as non-permitted, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The eight officers who were hurt suffered mostly scrapes and bruises, though one policewoman was hit in the knee by a large chunk of asphalt, the department said.
The day started with a peaceful march in support of immigrant rights, part of May Day rallies in cities across the U.S. west planned by a coalition of organized labor activists, students, civil rights advocates and members of the clergy.
The marches came on the heels of an 844-page bill introduced in April by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, and backed by President Barack Obama, that would rewrite many of America's immigration laws.
A centerpiece of the measure would create a path to legal status, and ultimately citizenship, for many of the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.
It also aims to secure the U.S. border with Mexico against illegal entry and to make it easier for industry, particularly high-tech businesses and agriculture, to hire workers from abroad when needed.
(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)