Demonstrator in standoff with Seattle police | Photo by Mike Scaturo
After a Friday night that featured impromptu demonstrations in the streets of Seattle, culminating in at least one (now-viral) instance of a police officer attacking a subdued protester, two more formally organized events were scheduled for Saturday.
By noon, the start of the first protest, an estimated thousand people had gathered near Seattle’s Westlake Center; by the start of the second rally at 3:00 pm, several thousand had convened. The afternoon event kicked off with a drum procession led by indigenous activists, which gave way to chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd” as the protesters streamed toward 5th Ave. There the group was met by a line of police officers barricading the street as they attempted to turn north; within several minutes, the police began using smoke grenades and chemical irritants to disperse the crowd, who returned a salvo of water bottles and signs. This back-and-forth occurred off and on for the next several hours.
An unmanned police car parked in the midst of the crowd was destroyed and eventually set on fire outside of Seattle’s flagship Nordstrom store. Other debris was added to the blaze; later reports came out that four or five police cars in the area had been burned. All the while the chants refocused the crowd on the purpose of the gathering: “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd” chants repeated over and over again as the afternoon wore on.
Corporate Seattle institutions like Nordstrom and Starbucks were the focus of the news reports in the early evening, as they ended up with graffitied storefronts, broken windows, and missing merchandise. Less frequently mentioned were the numerous protesters requiring medical treatment ranging from inflamed eyes to, in at least one case that I know of, serious hand injuries from an explosive police projectile. A child was also maced directly in the face.
At 4:45 pm, while rain poured on those gathered outside, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan declared a city-wide curfew for 5:00 pm — a thin pretense to crack down on protesters, who would have found it nearly impossible to evacuate the cramped downtown area in such a timely fashion even if they had been somehow also watching the news to hear the mayor’s message while protesting. (The 5:00 curfew emergency notice went out to cell phones citywide around 5:05 pm.) Governor Jay Inslee, at the behest of Mayor Durkan, also sent 200 National Guard troops to support the shutdown. By that point the protest had spilled out of downtown and onto I-5, Seattle’s major highway, where the demonstration stopped traffic.