Seattle Police Department officers arrested two protesters at an encampment sweep under the Spokane Street viaduct Sept. 12. The Southeast Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition (NAC) protested the encampment cleanup, which was overseen by the police officers.
Police arrested Aliana Scott-Thoennes and Sue Hodes, who refused to move outside of a taped-off area that police officers had established for the cleanup.
The Southeast Seattle NAC had built a relationship with the folks living under the Spokane Street viaduct prior to the Sept. 12 sweep. Because of that, several members were unwilling to stand idly by as another sweep was taking place.
That morning, Southeast Seattle NAC members arrived to be with folks as they cleaned up their belongings. As has become common practice, according to the Southeast Seattle NAC, police taped off the area and asked protesters to move away from the scene.
Scott-Thoennes has been present for many sweeps, watching as police taped off the area and direct people who had been living in unsanctioned encampments to gather their belongings. Scott-Thoennes left the area previously, but eventually it started to feel like a betrayal to the people she had befriended at each encampment. She said she increasingly felt like she was walking away to preserve her own comfort.
“It felt like that,” Scott-Thoennes said. “And more so each time.”
Scott-Thoennes said officers came through the area to tape off the area and she stepped under the tape to stand with the residents who were soon to be displaced. She was one of about four people to stand there, she said.
“I told [police officers] that I wanted to stay here with the people who wanted my support,” she said. Officers responded that they respected her position but would have to arrest her.
Officers detained Scott-Thoennes and Hodes for at least six hours before releasing them. Charges have not been filed in either case.
The several NACs formed in and around Seattle shortly after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 to forward social justice causes in a particularly fraught political time. The Southeast Seattle NAC has taken particular interest in the lives and experiences of homeless people struggling with the sweeps conducted by the city of Seattle. The group works with residents of multiple encampments.
So far in 2017, the city has conducted 88 cleanups, according to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.
Neighborhood Action Coalitions have formed in Seattle City Council districts and cities around Seattle and are hyper-local by design. Working with residents of these encampments became an important part of the work.
“We want to know exactly what’s going on in our own neighborhoods,” said Travis Thompson, a Southeast Seattle NAC member. “By forming relationships with your neighbors, especially your most marginalized neighbors, you can really build power that way.”
Aaron Burkhalter is the editor. Have a story idea? He can be can reached at aaronb (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @aaronburkhalter
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full September 20 issue.