by Kelsey Hamlin
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained the name of the victim in Friday night’s shooting. We apologize to both the victim and the victim’s family as their name never should have been included in the article at the family’s request.
Information surrounding a Milo Yiannopoulos protester shot at the University of Washington (UW) Friday night keeps rising like steam. The shooting transpired after political groups of all stripes flooded the university’s Red Square.
The protester was initially in critical condition after undergoing surgery but is now breathing on his own.
At the scene, a handful of people capturing video on their phones immediately approached campus police, according to UWPD Major Steve Rittereiser. The department has since been contacted by an additional 10 to 15 people via email.
The shooter and a suspected accomplice turned themselves in to UWPD late Friday night, but were later released. Though The Seattle Times reported the suspects’ releases were contingent on claims of self-defense, Rittereiser contended that UWPD did not disseminate that information, and the individuals’ motives are still undetermined. As such, the investigation remains ongoing.
“We are not looking for additional suspects or individuals involved,” Rittereiser said.
UWPD has their own detective division (five investigators) on the case. They’ve also been working in tandem with the Seattle Police Department, aiding them with additional investigators. UWPD is currently working directly with the prosecuting attorney’s office as well.
In addition to the people who immediately gave videos to police after the incident, more have been sent to UWPD.
“We’re laboriously looking through [the videos] so we can build a picture of what happened,” Rittereiser said. “The cooperation from the public has been extremely helpful, and we’re encouraging other people out there — if they’ve taken it themselves — to share it with us. I think we’ve pretty much captured all the stuff out on social.”
An example of what’s out there, and perhaps the best one thus far, is a Reddit video that goes in slow motion with a clear view, and markers, of the protester and shooter during the exchange.
A number of people in the department have the assignment of scanning social media for videos and information related to the case. One such video is a two-hour long Periscope captured by Hassan Abdi, a Somali UW immigrant, sophomore, and member of the Black Student Union.
At around 14:38 is when the gun fires. But it’s important to watch at least some of what’s going on before that moment to understand how the environment was, and how high people’s emotions were at that time.
Abdi was at the forefront, leading chants for protesters. He said he was right behind the victim, who was facing Kane Hall, when the gun was fired and the victim fell. His immediate reaction was to run.
“It was surreal,” Abdi recounted.
Despite watching it unfold, he said he hadn’t concluded it was a shooting until KOMO News interviewed him.
Since the shooter’s description was released — which was determined and put out by SPD that night — Abdi realized he had interacted with the suspect during his protesting. Abdi said the shooting suspect, identified as an Asian man, was “angry,” and had a White male friend with him.
“He wanted me to give him a reason to start an altercation,” Abdi explained of the shooter’s companion.
Abdi and another person interviewed Friday night thought they saw someone get hit with tear gas. But upon viewing a video of the incident, it’s clear that the person, a Trump supporter, was instead hit with a paint-filled balloon.
“There were a lot of words being thrown around,” Abdi said of the night’s intense atmosphere.
Trump supporters contended Milo Yiannopoulos, the UW College Republicans’ guest speaker, shouldn’t be protested because he has the right to free speech; protesters argued that hate speech, as Yiannopoulos is so often accused of employing, is not free speech.
“I’m really confused by the speaker,” Abdi expressed. “Someone who openly promotes hatred toward other people, obviously his rhetoric is a threat. There are people that wanted his event shut down because of the message it was going to promote.”
Abdi felt that today’s politics allow hateful rhetoric, which is becoming tolerated and, lately, even openly disseminated on UW campus.
In the beginning, Abdi said there were the same number of people on each side (Trump supporters compared to protesters). Protesters soon outnumbered supporters, however.
“Having showed up, [protesters] gave a statement that you can come and speak on this campus,” Abdi said, “but know it won’t be met without resistance.”
Ruminating on Friday’s events, Abdi was also confused about how else protesters could’ve made a difference had they not blocked Yiannopoulos attendees from getting inside.
“There’s no other way to shut it down,” he concluded.
But having anti-fascists, anarchists, mostly older Trump-supporting agitators, black bloc tactics, mainstream protesters and supporters in the same place, was “basically a recipe for disaster,” Abdi said.
He has one question lingering since that night: “Speaking from a point of de-escalation, not having it devolve into violence, what would be the best way to address the confrontation?”
An analysis of just what groups were in the crowd would be handy, especially since there are labels with which people might be unfamiliar — terms which I am now aware I was ignorant of and unfamiliar with when I wrote my first piece about the shooting.
As mentioned, there were Yiannopoulos attendees. Some wanted to attend as reporters. Others were just as curious to see Yiannopoulos while others, usually Trump supporters, were fans of Yiannopoulos. But not everyone got in.
Many Trump supporters in their 20s and younger, as noted in my previous piece, were having civil discourse with protesters. That is, all younger supporters except seemingly one who had left earlier that night. In contrast, the majority of supporters in their mid-to-late 30s or middle-aged were aggressive, attempting to instigate fights, and in some cases succeeding. One even carried around a taser. And, clearly, another one carried a gun.
There were also mainstream protesters: people who didn’t agree to Yiannopoulos’ appearance on the UW campus, and who didn’t agree with his typical use of hate speech. Experienced criminal justice organizers were in this group, and so some were designated de-escalators, and others were “medics” who carried liquid to combat tear gas or mace, and drugstore medical supplies.
Then there’s this term “black bloc,” which is a tactic, not an ideology. People who employ black bloc wear all black and mask their face to hide their identity. This prevents extremists from taking photos or videos and posting them on a website to identify a protester for a later attack. It is also employed, however, as a way to act anonymously and avoid prosecution.
Both antifascist (or antifa, for short) and anarchist groups have a wide range in them. So it’s a little difficult to define each.
The term “antifa” originated in Germany to refer to the militant AFA (Antifaschistische Aktion) who physically opposed fascism and fascists. Antifa is technically a tactic, but has been transitioning to be short for antifascist(s). Antifascists can also identify as socialists, communists, syndicalists, and labor unionists.
Anarchists philosophically oppose coercion. Some anarchists take direct action and have a willingness to combat fascism and Nazism with open counter-violence, while others find violence unjustifiable.
Now that the unfamiliar has been defined, the variation within each group can be seen. As such, violence can’t be accurately placed on solely one group. The combination of all these groups, however, lead to an inherent fray. Thus the public’s best interest is to gather dialogue and pay attention to the police’s investigation.
SPD, UWPD detectives and the prosecuting attorney’s office went over the initial facts of the case, according to Rittereiser, and the prosecuting attorney’s office was the primary guide for deciding to release the suspects.
Meanwhile, the Washington Administrative Code articulates that firearms are prohibited on college campuses.
The suspects’ identities haven’t been released because they have not been charged with anything at this time.
“We’re not releasing any suspect details at this time,” Rittereiser said. The only information the public has is the initial suspect description, which came from SPD Friday night after looking at a video.
While SPD has released no information on the victim, The Seattle Times has reported that they are aged 34.
“We have not been able to talk to him or have a significant conversation with him,” Rittereiser explained.
A South Seattle Emerald reader mentioned that urine and eggs were thrown at Trump supporters.
“I don’t think any of our police saw that,” Rittereiser said.
Upon hearing about urine, he suspected he knew what it was our reader referenced. Protesters were carrying plastic bottles, and the police noticed several times that the bottles were somehow filling up from another source. After some digging, they found out that the bottles were being filled with a solution that people use if they’re pepper sprayed to relieve their eyes.
“We talked to a couple people that we contacted that were concerned about this liquid substance, and we verified what it was,” Rittereiser said. “In some cases, the colors of the stuff were yellow. We verified it wasn’t urine, but it could easily be construed as that. It’s usually a mixture of water and dish soap. I heard there were some plastic bottles thrown, but I don’t believe there was a significant amount of that.”
Police decisions Friday night
UWPD’s event plan determined that if things were to deteriorate, they would call for additional support, and they did. They called on SPD, which then supplied additional people and resources.
While reporting, it appeared that police on bicycles were making a perimeter around the entirety of Red Square, but it was only along half of the square: Along Kane Hall (the building Yiannopoulos was in), extending to the steps heading toward the George Washington statue, and then on the other side extending toward the Suzzallo Library.
“There was clearly a certain area that officers were trying to maintain a distance between the crowd and Kane Hall,” Rittereiser specified. “The line went around in a manner that the crowd could freely flow out and away from the incident. I think that people chose not to do that. We would not try to surround Red Square. That wouldn’t make any sense.”
The police perimeter was for crowd control, and nobody was arrested that night.
Rittereiser said police found out someone was shot when protesters told the closest officers that there was a person down.
“There may have been some people in the crowd that felt they had some medical responsibilities that showed up there as well,” Rittereiser said of the scene. “The immediate decision was to move the individual from the place there to Spokane Lane [behind Kane Hall].”
It was said fireworks, rocks, and pieces of brick were thrown at police that night, all of which rang true with Rittereiser except the fireworks. He said that was a reference SPD made during that night’s press conference, but believes it was a reference to something downtown because there weren’t any fireworks at Red Square.
In addition, when it came to the fights, Rittereiser said they happened “in and around the Red Square area. We had officers more closely related to the line where people were getting in, and they weren’t seeing those kinds of fights there. It tended to be more in the crowd.” Some of those incidents were simply pushing and shoving, and others became a little more than that.
Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website.
Featured Image: Exploded paint balloons near shooting scene at UW (credit: Kelsey Hamlin)