Seattle Protests Ferguson Decision for a Second Night

TenseStandoffWithRiotPoliceByConventionCenter

Originally published on PubliCola.

“I saw you all get maced, I saw you all get chased, last night I saw some of you go to jail,” the speaker told the crowd of protesters who’d gathered near Seattle Central Community College on Broadway during a second night. “But now we’re back.”

After a tumultuous Monday night, marchers were back on Seattle streets Tuesday evening from 6pm until 11pm for a second day of protest, chanting “We are Mike Brown” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” along the way.

Tuesday night’s contingent was much smaller than the hundreds that turned out on Monday night immediately after the controversial announcement from St. Louis County that the grand jury there did not indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the now infamous shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Tuesday night’s crowd varied between about 60 and 100 people, and had a much higher proportion of non-white marchers. Also unlike Monday night, when there was some violence, there was no violence last night despite a few tense standoffs with bike and riot police. (Monday, on the other hand, there was pepper spray, flashbang grenades, and vandalism.)

After initially obeying pedestrian laws, the group did shut down traffic around Capitol Hill and downtown by illegally walking in the street and blocking several intersections (though at one point they did quickly move to let an ambulance through). The police basically hung back while protesters blocked traffic, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes. Some commuters were angry, though. At one point, it seemed like every driver at 6th and Union was leaning on their horn. The protesters response? A chant of: “We’re tired too!”

The march began lawfully at Westlake Plaza in downtown and at about 7:30pm protesters left the sidewalk and took to the streets. Thus began a three and a half hour game of slow-motion Pac Man with protesters snaking up and down Pike and Pine between Pike Place Market and Cal Anderson Park and police following slowly. For the most part, police gave the protesters space, though they weren’t afraid to launch a blitzkrieg bicycle line by Plymouth Pillars Park above the highway at Pike and Boren in order to separate protesters from an irate SUV driver.

The most tense moment of the night came when club-wielding police stood guard to block protesters from entering I-5 (as a handful of Monday’s protesters were able to do) by the Washington State Convention Center. Ultimately, though, there were no physical confrontations between police and protesters.

For many, teenager Brown’s death (much like the death of black teen Trayvon Martin two years ago) has become a symbol of racist policing. While Ferguson is a long way from Seattle, the larger issue it raises about the discrepancies that exist in the criminal justice system between the treatment of whites and people of color have resonated around the country.

For many protesters, the main goal has been simply to draw attention to the disproportionate amount of police violence faced by black Americans. Several times during last night’s march protesters read the names of black men recently killed by police, including Eric Garner (choked to death by New York City police) and John Crawford (shot by local Ohio police inside a Walmart while carrying a BB gun he’d picked up from a shelf), while chanting an emergent refrain of this new movement: “Black lives matter.”

“Seattleites don’t care about black lives,” said 23 year old nannie Marissa Johnson. “I’m tired of telling my teenage brothers how to deal with police,” she added, describing how carefully she urges them to behave around police officers for fear of police violence. Johnson said that, in her view, Seattle is not significantly less racist than the Deep South; rather, our local racism manifests differently. “If one of my brothers became a hashtag [as #MichaelBrown’s name has become], I don’t think these ‘Seattle progressives’ would come march,” she said.

“I would like [police] to be held accountable in the same way they hold us accountable,” said marcher and SPU student Terrell Kelly, adding that he wanted to see policy reforms that would prevent police from “protect[ing] their own.”

The only African American member of the Seattle City Council, Bruce Harrell, who’s also half Japanese American, was, it’s worth noting, well ahead of the curve on another refrain that’s emerged during the Ferguson protests: the call for police body cameras. As public safety chair, Harrell has been calling for a body cam pilot project for years (since at least 2010), and the SPD is currently testing the technology and hopes all officers will have body cams by 2016.

March organizer Mara Willaford was not persuaded by the emphasis on reform. “As black folk, we need to fight against any notion that the police are reformable,” she told other activists during a pre-march strategy meeting in a U.W. meeting room for a contingent of UW protesters after an earlier UW protest. “They are based on slave patrols,” she said. “I tell this to police all the time. There’s gangs, and there’s terrorists, and then there’s [the police] … The police function the exact same way, except that for protecting a certain hood, they protect private property.”

Further protests are tentatively planned for Black Friday.

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