Seattle police declare riot at renewed Black Lives Matter protests
Police said protesters set fire to a construction site for a juvenile detention facility and were throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at officers.
The Seattle Police Department declared a riot on Saturday afternoon and used nonlethal weapons in an attempt to disperse a crowd of roughly 2,000 people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood marching in the city’s largest Black Lives Matter protest in more than a month.
The riot declaration came after protesters set fire to a construction site for a juvenile detention facility and as the police department reported that one person had breached the fencing surrounding the East Precinct, the site of nightly clashes in June that led to a nearly month-long protest occupation, and officers saw smoke in the lobby.
Police said protesters were throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at the officers. As of 7:30 p.m. local time, the department had reported 25 arrests and three police injuries, including an officer hospitalized with a leg injury caused by an explosive. The department posted a photo of unused fireworks found at the scene to its Twitter feed.
Protesters erected barricades and fended off police efforts to disperse them with homemade shields, umbrellas and leaf blowers, tactics borrowed from Portland, Ore., protests, where activists have clashed nightly with police for nearly two months.
Early Saturday, a U.S. District judge issued a temporary restraining order against a Seattle City Council ordinance banning crowd control devices such as pepper spray, rubber bullets, flashbangs and blast balls.
On Thursday, Police Chief Carmen Best warned that without such tools, the police department could not protect property. During demonstrations on July 19 and July 22, protesters smashed windows and looted businesses perceived to be supportive of the police department.
The department said that at least 12 officers were injured by protesters during those clashes.
Nightly protests since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis had dwindled in recent weeks in Seattle but were reinvigorated in the wake of federal action in the Portland protests and after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) tweeted that President Trump had sent federal law enforcement agents to the city.
“For a month, the President threatened to send federal forces to ‘clean up’ Seattle.
The President has made good on his threats in Portland, and continues to exacerbate the situation on the ground, endanger communities, and jeopardize the work of local officials,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) said Wednesday in a statement. “The President unilaterally deploying paramilitary-type forces into American cities should concern all Americans.
His blatant disregard for the constitution — and for the safety and well-being of our residents — is textbook despotism.”
Protesters gathered in the early afternoon on Saturday, holding signs declaring “We Stand With Portland Feds Out!” and “The Feds Don’t Scare Us.”
Medics handed out earplugs to prevent hearing damage from flash bangs and vials of saline solution to dilute pepper spray and tear gas.
Before the march, organizer Jaida Grayson stood on a brick wall with a megaphone and instructed the crowd on tactics like “de-arresting,” where groups of protesters block efforts by law enforcement to arrest individuals.
“When you see something, I need you to do more than say something,” Grayson told the crowd. “I need you to swarm.”
Christine Edgar said that when the yellow-clad Wall of Moms emerged at Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests last week she decided that Seattle mothers needed to adopt the tactic as well. With three days’ notice, she said, a Seattle Wall of Moms formed to march in the streets to protest the federal presence.
“I wanted to make sure that Black and Brown voices were represented among the moms,” Edgar, who said her son was at the protest, told The Washington Post before addressing the crowd with a megaphone.
“When people hear ‘mom,’ they always think of white moms,” she said, “and Black, Brown, and Indigenous women have been on the forefront of liberation movements for centuries.”
By midafternoon the crowd, flanked by bicycles and vehicles as a security measure, had marched several blocks to the construction site for the King County Children and Family Justice Center, a juvenile detention facility and courthouse, where dozens of people toppled fences and set fire to five construction trailers.
The blazes appeared to have destroyed the trailers and sent large plumes of smoke into the air before the fire department arrived.
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Friday that the facility, commonly known as the “youth jail,” would close by 2025 in line with the county’s goal of zero youth detention. The facility has been the subject of protests for years by groups calling for an end to youth incarceration.
Shortly after the fire, protesters smashed the windows of a Starbucks, which has become a target for its donations to the Seattle Police Foundation.
The fire and subsequent clashes outside a police department precinct resulted in the police declaring the protest a “riot” and attempting to disperse the crowd with nonlethal munitions like pepper spray, blast balls and rubber bullets. The protesters came prepared, with many wearing protective gear.
“After seeing what happened in Portland, I feel it is important to put my body on the line,” Megan Barry, who identifies as white, said before the march began.
A marketing professional from Gig Harbor, 22 miles southwest of Seattle, it was her first protest since mid-June. On May 30, she said, she was hit with tear gas when police tried to disperse the first large demonstration in downtown Seattle after George Floyd’s death.
“I have the luxury of going home and acting like nothing is going on,” she said. “I want to hold myself accountable.”