Weekend protests turned violent on July 25 and 26 as demonstrators clashed with police on Seattle streets in what police would dub a riot.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) reported in the afternoon of July 26 that 57 officers had been injured and 47 protesters were arrested for assaults on officers, failure to disperse and obstruction. Protesters posted images on social media of injuries they said were caused by flashbangs and other weapons hurled by police.
The protests were called in solidarity with Portland, Oregon, where people have been protesting nightly for weeks since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Recently, President Donald Trump dispatched federal agents to defend federal buildings located in the city, a move opposed by advocates and Portland elected officials.
Federal agents were reportedly also sent to Seattle over the objections of Mayor Jenny Durkan, who, in a press conference the day prior to the protests, said that she would explore every legal avenue should federal agents take action in Seattle. Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, said he would welcome federal help during a TV appearance.
Those agents left Seattle on July 28, according to a joint statement with Durkan, Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
That week, city of Seattle attorneys had been in court to dispute their own City Council over an ordinance banning the use of certain crowd control measures that would have taken effect the day of the protests.
At the same press conference, SPD Chief Carmen Best decried the Seattle City Council’s passage of an ordinance prohibiting the police from using tear gas and other chemical weapons.
“I’ll be taking this pepper spray off of my belt and I’ll be putting a riot stick on there because that’s what we’re left with doing,” Best said.
In the end, her officers would not be so encumbered.
On Friday night, hours before the council’s ordinance would have taken effect, Judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order requested by the Department of Justice that nullified the ordinance.
The ordinance was meant to prevent the use of a wide array of “crowd control” devices including projectiles, chemical irritants, acoustic weapons, water cannons and others. Use of “OC spray,” better known as tear gas, was specifically called out in the legislation.
Police denied they used tear gas during the weekend, though multiple demonstrators said the chemical was used.
Chemical irritants certainly were.
Multiple people were sprayed with or impacted by chemical agents as police squared off against protesters Saturday in the area formerly known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP).
Protesters target politicians’ homes
Members of local Native tribes condemned protesters who graffitied the area around Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez’ house, calling the act one of “intimidation” and “hatred.”
Juarez is the first Native woman to sit on the Seattle City Council.
Protesters who support slashing funding to the Seattle Police Department and investing in neglected communities have been protesting in front of the homes of elected officials who have expressed doubts or openly opposed calls to cut the department by 50 percent, such as Councilmember Alex Pedersen and Mayor Jenny Durkan.
They also went to the home of Councilmember Tammy Morales, who has supported defunding the department from the jump.
While Juarez has made statements about her desire to “rebuild” the police department, using the metaphor of a poisoned tree that will only bear poisoned seeds, and was supportive of calls to root out racism in the department and policing, she stopped short of demanding a 50 percent cut.
“Therefore, in order to reorganize, reduce and reallocate such funds and duties, we need a plan, not a percentage,” Juarez wrote in mid-July. The statement was not well-received online by advocates, some of whom questioned her ability and desire to represent District 5.
Juarez won reelection to the seat in 2019.
According to the statement, protesters went to Juarez’ home and spraypainted “corporate bootlicker” on the road outside and yelled “corporate whore” into a bullhorn.
“The deplorable threats to her safety and her home have no place in a civil society. She has dedicated her life to serving both the Native and non-Native community in the Northwest. Actions that denigrate her and service cannot be tolerated,” said Steve Edwards, Chairman of Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, in a statement.
The movement to defund the Seattle Police Department is part of a wider struggle that erupted in May when police officers in Minnesota killed George Floyd. It became a central demand of the protesters who took over a section of Capitol Hill called CHOP, along with demands to reinvest in BIPOC communities and free all protesters.
The plan to accomplish this, outlined to the City Council by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, does not require a full 50 percent reduction in 2020. Instead, it calls for reductions in funding in the last months of the year and more substantial reductions in future budgeting cycles.
The mayor agreed to move certain functions out of SPD, such as parking enforcement and the 9-1-1 dispatcher system — changes that would lower the department’s budget on paper but not result in direct cost savings.
However, Durkan and Best have staunchly opposed more aggressive cuts requested by community groups and a majority of the City Council.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the July 29 - Aug. 4, 2020 issue.