Protestors Unite Following City Attorney’s Threat to Aggressively Prosecute ‘Reckless’ Protesters

by DJ Martinez

In an Op-Ed for the Seattle Times August 29, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes wrote that he would no longer be “turning a blind eye” to protesters who invoke their First Amendment rights by using non-violent protest tactics that block city traffic, in reaction to recent protests earlier this year held by activists from multiple movements.

Holmes has filed charges against water protectors and land defenders, who were arrested in May for shutting down Second Avenue and Chase Bank, one of the largest investors in tar sands oil and coal. Holmes additionally plans to charge the Anti-ICE 9, who, a month later, shut down the same Second Avenue, raising awareness to the privately owned ICE building in Seattle’s own so-called sanctuary city. In response, members from Mazaska Talks, The Northwest Detention Center Resistance, No New Youth Jail, Seattle 350 and the National Lawyers guild held a press conference at City Hall Sept. 4.

“We are here to invite city leaders to stand on the right side of history. To invite Pete Holmes to stand on the right side of history,” said Angelica Chazaro, a member of Mijente and The Northwest Detention Center Resistance. “This is a moment of crisis. The defenders who locked down to protest the pipeline are fighting to avert climate disaster, and secure all of our futures. The defenders who locked down to protest ICE, are fighting the deportation terror that is being inflicted on so many of our community members. Instead of focusing on prosecuting those who are literally putting their bodies on the line for a world that would benefit us all, city leaders should be asking themselves: Has the city of Seattle done everything in its power to stop ICE’s incursions into our communities?”

She spoke about the severity of conditions occurring right now at the Tacoma detention center, where detainees have entered their second week of a hunger strike.

“[Detainees] are starving themselves to protest their conditions, and to protest their separation from their families and communities,” Chazaro said. “They are a part of a larger national movement, to end the violence of detention and deportation, that has reached new crisis points under the Trump administration.”

Chazaro spoke on why these types of protests are pivotal to how awareness is spread.

“This past June, nine activists locked down outside of ICE’s regional headquarters, located in downtown Seattle. Their protest, which blocked Second Avenue for three hours, has put 1000 Second Avenue, an otherwise nondescript downtown office building, on the map as the nerve center for ICE’s violence in our region,” she said. “Pretty much since then, almost everyday there has been an action directly outside of that building protesting the ICE officers who continue to work there day after day, inflicting violence on our communities.”  

Chazaro echoed many sentiments from other speakers who say Pete Holmes’ decision is directly aligned with the Trump agenda.

“We heard this morning, from one hunger striker down in Tacoma, that ICE is seeking a judge’s permission to begin force feeding him, to begin the documented torture of force feeding. This is what repressive regimes do. It’s not too late for the City of Seattle to remain firm against the Trump regime, against climate destruction, against ICE’s destruction of our communities, rather than using the courts and city resources to target those who are helping lead the fight to free our future.”

Matt Remle read a brief statement from Mazaska Talks, an organization that was founded out of the fight against the North Dakota Access Pipeline to put pressure on cities to divest from financial institutions that fund that pipeline and other tar sands pipelines, which profit from the destruction and violations of treaty rights and Mother Earth.

“I found it ironic that on the day we celebrated the federal court of appeals decision in Canada that halted the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, that Holmes issued a statement signaling his intention to aggressively prosecute what he calls, ‘reckless protesters,’” Remle said. “Specifically singling out our actions against JP Morgan Chase, as well as the actions taken against ICE. The irony was not lost that his statement also came on the heels of a major report by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, that found that an astonishing 94% of Native women in Seattle who participated in the survey, experienced rape or were coerced into sex in their lifetime, and that only 8% of [those cases] ended in a conviction. Our actions [are] against JP Morgan Chase, the other Wall St. banks, and against these pipelines. Our Indigenous women are courageously calling out the horrific man camps that accompany these projects, and [are] raising awareness to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Perhaps his time as City Attorney would be better spent on aggressively targeting the perpetrators of violence against Native women here in Seattle, financial institutions that are funding these earth destroying projects, and the corporations that are pushing extreme energy intensive projects that violate Native peoples inherent rights.”

Neil Fox from the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild also spoke of irony.

“At a time when armed fascists regularly come to our city and threaten our community with their AR-15s and their guns, at this time Pete Holmes has chosen to prosecute non-violent protesters for standing up. For what? For trying to better our society? What are Pete Holmes’ priorities?” Fox asked. “Why is he focusing on non-violent protesters when we have these armed fascists thugs coming to our city, day after day, year after year.”

He added: “Surely Mr. Holmes knows that our laws give maximum protection to the right to assemble peacefully in public spaces. And that speech sometimes can cause minor inconvenience. A marathon that’s run through the streets of downtown Seattle where all the traffic shuts down, inconveniences people. Oh well. That’s the cost of living in a modern urban society. We like those things because they increase the quality of our life. Certainly, when civic minded protesters block traffic, there’s no difference. Except the first amendment is specifically designed to protect the protesters. That’s the reason we have a first amendment, to protect people’s right to go out into the streets.”

This would seem to be precisely one of the first reasons why the Seattle Police Department didn’t arrest protestors from the No New Youth Jail Coalition, who blocked traffic earlier this year in March.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was unable to attend the press conference, but instead sent an aid in her place to read a statement that read in part, “Since Trump took office, millions across the country have taken to the streets, many for the first time, to protest attacks on workers, communities of color, women, unions, and policies, which favor big business and the super rich at the expense of ordinary working people. These activists, and the movements that more and more people are getting actively involved in, are our only true defense attacks from Trump and the far right. The needs of big business are meticulously attended to in our city, while working and poor people’s basic need for housing, mass public transportation, and essential services have largely been ignored. The fact is protesters are not the cause of our city’s traffic problems nor do they pose a grave threat to our city’s emergency services. For a City Attorney to imply that they are, and to send the chilling message that protesters will be arrested and prosecuted, is unacceptable.”

Kelson Caldwell, a member of the Anti-ICE 9 who was arrested in June, echoed that these protests aren’t the cause of our city’s traffic nightmares.

“I am a professional bus driver, and it is ludicrous to blame protesters for the traffic in this city, and that is basically what Pete Holmes is doing,” Caldwell said. “Every single day I have a reroute for many of my bus routes, and I have to take a different street because entire city blocks are blocked by the construction that is being funded by the corporate elites who more and more own this town.”

This point makes me wonder, will the city plan to cancel Seafair next year, which annually shuts down Interstate 90 for hours while the Blue Angels practice and perform for four days?

Many protestors that I spoke with who were arrested at one of those actions told me that they weren’t aware that they were being prosecuted until they saw the article in the Seattle Times, which seems to only reinforce that the City Attorney is indeed using intimidation tactics and trying to send a message.

Alec Cannon from 350 Seattle had this to say: “We don’t participate in these protests to inconvenience people. We don’t participate in these protests for the sake of being disruptive. We participate in these protests cause we recognize that the inconvenience of climate change, the inconvenience of having families torn apart are infinitely greater than the inconvenience of being stuck in traffic for a few minutes. At this moment in time, in this moment in history, we’ve never needed activism more. Our administration is pushing policies that are tearing families apart, our administration is outright racist and a white supremacist administration, and instead of using his public platform to stand up against the Trump administration senior’s policies, instead of using his public platform to take a stand against the oil industry, instead of using city resources to take a stand against the oil industry as numerous other cities who are engaged in lawsuits against other cities have, City Attorney Holmes made his decision to use his public platform to send a chilling message to activists in Seattle. Activists are doing their damndest to stand up in the face of grave injustices, and to fight for a more just society. And in doing that, City Attorney Holmes is aligning himself with the status quo. And as history has taught us over and over again, the status quo can uphold the most grave of injustices.”

When asked by members of the press if this would dissuade protesters or have them rethink their tactics, members from each group agreed that they would not be intimidated, and that Holmes’ statement has instead brought these movements closer together.

Featured Image: Matt Remle speaks at Seattle City Hall Sept. 4. (Photo: DJ Martinez)

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