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Notes from night seven at the Capitol Hill core of Seattle’s protests: 5 early victories, Pike/Pine businesses step up, and planning for a possible long stay at 11th and Pine — UPDATE

(Image: Jake Goldstein-Street)

The seventh day of protest in Seattle following the killing of George Floyd and ongoing incidents of police violence here and across the country has been a more sprawling, more difficult situation to describe.

Thursday brought marches in the South Precinct, on 12th Ave, and another to Garfield High after starting with a small, but dedicated group of protesters who lasted through the entire night at 11th and Pine. With the E Pine area as a kind of home base, crowds have broken off for marches through nearby areas around the Hill and the Central District. Police have followed, clearing traffic for the sometimes 1000-strong crowds of marchers as they go.

Like Wednesday as the Seattle Police Department showed increased discipline and restraint while implementing simple improvements like increasing the distances between officers and protesters and trying to more clearly communicate updates, there have been no reports of larger scale employment of the serious crowd control arsenal of tear gas and explosives deployed by SPD earlier in the week.

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Beyond the peace, there have been further victories for the movement:

  1. Wednesday, leaders including activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver began talks with Mayor Jenny Durkan on efforts to reform policing in Seattle and “#defundSPD” demands to radically reduce the police department’s budget, increase spending on social programs, and pledge to drop charges against the 90+ people arrested so far during the demonstrations
  2. Durkan and Chief Carmen Best agreed to drop the city’s nightly curfew after criticism that it inhibited fair and legal protest
  3. The City Attorney announced Seattle’s bid to end or reduce the federal consent decree oversight of its police force in place for years after findings of biased policing would also be put on ice
  4. Thursday, there was more progress: Mayor Durkan announced she had asked officials to review Seattle Police crowd control policy in light of what she called “the pink umbrella incident” — the moment Monday night that set off a riot on Capitol Hill when police reacted to a pink umbrella thrust over the barrier outside the East Precinct at 11th and Pine with a barrage of pepper spray and blast grenades that led to a night filled with clouds of tear gas throughout Pike/Pine and a major clash with protesters
  5. After nights of complaints about officers covering their badge numbers, Chief Best announced a new policy covering so-called “mourning bands” used by police to express respect for fallen officers. The new guidelines require all officers to “have their badge numbers prominently displayed.” Thursday night, protesters yelled at officers who had apparently not yet gotten the word on the new policy. Best said earlier in the day that it might take time to get the word out on the change.

(Image: Jake Goldstein-Street)

Durkan also announced a new free COVID-19 testing initiative in partnership with UW Medicine that will see Seattle Fire personnel staffing two drive-thru testing stations — one in the north off Aurora and another in SoDo. Anyone with a new cough and even mild symptoms or anybody who has had even a brief exposure to someone who is ill should register for the free testing. The program is part of efforts city officials say are also being put in place to help Seattle’s protests to continue in a safe and healthy fashion.

The Occupy camp on Broadway in November 2011

The Occupy camp on Broadway in November 2011

There will need to be more city resources put in place in the direct neighborhood to help support 11th and Pine as an ongoing protest site if demonstrations continue and not just regarding COVID-19 — though City Traffic Engineer and popular social media figure Dongho Chang says Cal Anderson is also being considered as a testing site. With memories of the health challenges of the Occupy camp on Broadway in late 2011, the city can’t act quickly enough.

Why the East Precinct, Pike/Pine, and Cal Anderson? One organizer told CHS earlier this week it’s about the area’s history as a place for First Amendment events, its central location, and the wide open spaces of the park. “We’re not focused on East Precinct necessarily. Cal Anderson has been a large meeting space a lot of people are familiar with,” the organizer said.

The business community around the Capitol Hill protest site, hobbled by COVID-19 restrictions, has stepped up to support the crowds with venues including Vermillion, La Dive, Caffe Vita, and Optimism Brewing hosting community aid supplies and, importantly, bathrooms.

Thursday, neighbors could also celebrate a significant absence: no noisy planes endlessly circling the neighborhood.

UPDATE 11:55 AM: A potentially dangerous situation overnight that likely would have sparked a more aggressive response from police earlier in the week is indicative of the new efforts on crowd control with SPD and more restraint on both sides of the barriers. Just before 1:30 AM, a large explosion caused by what people said appeared to be powerful firecrackers taped together and lit on the southwest corner of 11th and Pine set off a barrage of objects thrown by protesters at police as the crowds reacted to a possible push by the line of law enforcement seen several times in the previous nights of protest. Multiple videos including the one below show the scene unfold as the crowd and police react to the explosion and eventually manage to calm the response on both sides of the fence. CHS is aware of one serious injury in the brief melee — an officer was reported to have taken a rock to the leg and required medical treatment. Given conditions, he was treated by medical resources at the scene and then taken to the hospital by patrol car, according to police radio updates. We’ve asked SPD for more information about the incident and will update if we learn more. SPD has officially reported six serious officer injuries during the protests. Dozens of protesters have been injured with some suffering injuries from SPD crowd control explosives and during “use of force” when being taken into custody.

Larger victories for the movement might face a more significant challenge. Thursday, after talking around the issue in a press conference saying all department’s are due to face cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis, Durkan hit the idea of cutting SPD’s budget in half head on. “We will not defund by 50%,” Durkan said.

“Public safety is critical to every part of our city,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, City Council member Kshama Sawant representing Capitol Hill and the Central District is upping the ante. Thursday, the Socialist Alternative representative called for  a ban on Seattle Police use or purchase of “chemical weapons, rubber bullets,” and “sonic/ultrasonic weapons, and a ban on chokeholds in addition to adding her support for “a cut in police budget by half to fund restorative justice.”

The next rung of achievements for the protesters from groups like the Seattle Peoples Party, COVID-19 Mutual Aid, No New Youth Jail, and Block the Bunker, it appears, will be a major reach.

UPDATE 6/5/2020 8:45 AM: The latest hours on Capitol Hill brought another night with fewer and more disciplined moment of SPD crowd control than previous nights — continued progress for demonstrators who, for now, have claimed 11th and Pine as their own. Friday, actions in Seattle will begin focused on the Central District at 23rd and Jackson:

UPDATE 6/5/2020 12:40 PM: Seattle’s police oversight agencies the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General have come out with a joint recommendation calling on SPD to stop using tear gas:

SPD has no department-wide policies on the use of tear gas. Police officers should not be deploying use of force tools for which they do not have policies and training. That is not how our system of police accountability works, nor should it.

Tear gas is a serious and indiscriminate use of force. Indeed, the Chemical Weapons Convention has explicitly banned the use of tear gas. Furthermore, infectious disease experts have warned police departments around the country against using tear gas, which causes people to cough and can make the body more susceptible to infection, only helping to spread the coronavirus during this pandemic.

As Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Public Health of Seattle and King County said in a tweet last night, “Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.”

The recommendation from the bodies aren’t policy — they must be acted on by Mayor Durkan and Chief Best.

“To be clear, as SPD’s response to protesters over the past week has shown, this is not the only reform necessary to protect people engaging in constitutionally protected activity,” a statement on the recommendation reads. “However, SPD must take this immediate step to rectify the problematic use of tear gas.”

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9 thoughts on “Notes from night seven at the Capitol Hill core of Seattle’s protests: 5 early victories, Pike/Pine businesses step up, and planning for a possible long stay at 11th and Pine — UPDATE” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Durkan, yesterday, announced that she will not even consider a 50% cut in the police budget.

    Which puts her **exactly** where we always knew she was: falsely pretending to be open to protester’s demands, while having no intention of ever following through on anything.

    At most she’ll make a few garbage non-concessions that she can disingenuously tout as “progress.”

    Nothing, I repeat, nothing will change because the SPD realizes they can get away with everything…and thanks to our falsely-on-the-side-of-the-people mayor, they are right.

    Seattleites need to look at the city budget and esp. at just how much of it is consumed by the SPD.

    It. Is. Ridiculous.

    It is by far the largest expenditure.

    And what for? Oh, that’s right, to fund an SPD that operates as a miniature army whose battlefield is the streets of the city that funds it and whose “enemies” are…the same taxpayers who fund it.

    This is nuts. The SPD is out of control and needs to be defunded, de-militarized, and more than just leadership needs changing, the entire culture of policing needs a massive overhaul.

    Durkan has shown through this that she needs to be pushed out.

  2. Wow. 6 months ago everyone was in an uproar because of all of the after hour related violence on the Pike/Pine corridor and at the Harvard Market. Demands were made for police intervention and a lot of it.
    Now…Police are the bad guys and should be defunded… until, of course, the next need for their services arises.
    The pendulum will constantly swing from one extreme to the next. Always.

  3. Are people actually thinking we should get rid of the police department?



    Has the country gone mad?

    Exactly why Trump will win in a landslide. Unfortunately all this drama is playing right into his hands.

    You’ve got the hillbillies who vote for him hearing how the liberals are calling for the police department to be shut down. They’d want to stick it to liberals even if it means voting a guy that harassed women. That’s how much they hate liberals.

  4. Since people seem confused about what “defunding the police” means (and it isn’t “total elimination”), here’s a very quick explanation.

    The police right now comprises very large generalist organization that is expected to do everything from social work to riot control.

    This means “the police” is not a job but a sprawling, expensive set of jobs.

    Many of these jobs are not really police type jobs, because police departments have absorbed responsibilities that used to be handled by other agencies. For instance state-funded social workers who specialize in the mentally ill.

    “The police” should exist as a narrowly defined, highly trained, and carefully regulated group of public servants who have a very specific job. That group would be much smaller and less expensive – perhaps by an order of magnitude.

    The money saved by this reduction could be spent more effectively on other narrowly defined jobs like outreach specialists, security for officials, investigators, etc.

    The hope is by dismantling the bloated, militarized mega-organization that the police has evolved into over the last few decades (and this isn’t just city police but dozens of kinds of overlapping federal police and jurisdictions), we can both improve the quality of policing and cut down on the institutionalized racism and brutality that have taken root in the profession.

    This is my understanding of the idea, but I was only first exposed to it a few days ago and honestly was skeptical at first. Now I know better but still have lots to learn.

    Black lives matter!

    • Your understanding it correct.

      But…you knew there would be a but, and here it is:

      But…commenters and others like Sea2Sea above will PURPOSEFULLY DISTORT this understanding in order to serve their goal of cutting off the needed discussion.

      Notice how S2S above paints the argument itself as completely ridiculous but mischaracterizing it?

      It’s a tactic used when one side knows its side has lost the actual argument, so the only recourse is to denigrate your opponents and aggressively mischaracterize their stances to either (1) shift the terrain of the argument or (2) push the argument–via aggressive mischaracterizing–outside the realm of legitimate discussion.

      Which is exactly what S2S was seeking to do.

      It’s a really despicable, gaslighting tactic.

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