by Elizabeth Turnbull
Editor’s Note: This post was updated after publication to include information about the protesters who marched to I-5 and successfully blocked traffic in both directions, for at least an hour, on 5/30/20.) You can also read how community members came together to take care of each other, the following day, with many going on the record to say the previous day’s protest was hijacked by vigilantism.
Seattle activists and protesters responded to the murder of George Floyd in distinct ways on Saturday in downtown Seattle. Activists at the main gatherings expressed anger and a need for police reform, with an emphasis on peace, while some protestors later in the day looted buildings and burned police vehicles, leading to 27 arrests for charges ranging from assault to arson.
Over the past few days, anger and frustration have rippled across the country and manifested in nation-wide protests after George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, died on May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, ignoring Floyd’s cries that he could not breathe.
In Seattle, protesters voiced anger over police brutality and activists emphasized peace, while at the same time advocating for more police accountability and an end to white silence. Some protesters later in the day resorted to looting, which was condemned by other protesters and prompted Mayor Jenny Durkan to declare a two-day, citywide curfew from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
About noon Saturday, protesters gathered for the “March for Justice #GeorgeFloyd” at the Seattle Police Department’s downtown headquarters at 610 5th Avenue. Attendees gathered around Sheley Anderson, the First Vice President of the NAACP’s Alaska Oregon Washington State-Area Conference, and around other speakers and members of the Black community.
“I know that I don’t stand alone in turning my anger into action,” Anderson said in a speech. “Who is ready for a change today?”
Anderson, as well as other speakers at the protest organized by the group “Justice For George Floyd,” advocated for police reform. Anderson specifically called for changes in the inquest system that investigates deaths involving police officers and demanded that the Seattle Police Department’s Consent Decree, ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice, not be lifted.
One protester, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Emerald that she came to protest because it seemed like the only way to combat injustices and make her her point.
“Hopefully it stays peaceful, and something like this, with the signs and yelling,” she said. “No violence, no looting or things like that.”
After speakers called for an end to white silence and for more police accountability, protesters marched down 4th Avenue. The march continued past Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, as protesters shouted “Black Lives Matter!” and “No justice, no peace!”
About 2 p.m., the march ended as protesters gathered on Pine Street, across from Westlake Center, where “The Defiant Walk of Resistance Against Injustice,” organized by Not This Time!, was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
As organizers with Not This Time! set up equipment, protesters filled the streets surrounding Westlake Park. A large portion of the protesters assembled on Pine Street, facing a line of police officers at the corner of 5th Avenue and Pine Street.
At 2:40 p.m., a loud bang, similar to a flash bang, went off at the front of the protest, and white smoke rose from where the police were positioned as protestors chanted, “don’t shoot.” Four minutes later, a woman was rushed to medics, complaining of pain in her eyes she thought was from tear gas.
It was unclear if any protestor initiated the violence or why there was such a police response at this time. According to a Seattle Police Department statement, protesters were throwing rocks, bottles and other projectiles at the police at 2:38 p.m., some of which were Molotov cocktails that “quickly ignited several city and private police vehicles.”
No vehicles in the vicinity appeared to be on fire at this point in time.
About 3 p.m., while the protests continued in the surrounding streets, Andre’ Taylor, the founder of Not This Time! — whose brother, Che Taylor, a Black man, was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2016 — spoke to the remaining protestors gathered in Westlake Park. Taylor spoke about the need for people of all races to stand together and called on protesters to work to prevent the protests from turning violent.
“We don’t operate with violence because we don’t have to,” Taylor said. “I want you to look constantly around you, if you see anybody that is an outlier to what we come here today to do, amongst one another, I want you to take pictures if you have to . . . we must not allow some white folks that think that’s the way to do things [to] disrupt real change.”
Taylor encouraged listeners to stay focused as noise from the protests on Pine Street intensified and distracted the crowd. On Pine Street, shouts of “Fuck the Police” could be heard and clouds of white smoke grew larger as more explosions of what seemed to be flash bangs went off.
Just before 4 p.m., a large group of protestors marched up 5th Avenue to Spring Street, across the freeway overpass and back around to Madison Street, ultimately flowing onto the freeway where they stopped southbound traffic on I-5 and eventually northbound traffic, for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, at about 4 p.m., the remaining protesters on Pine Street, who appeared to be previously blocked by police on 5th Avenue and Pine Street, moved further down Pine past 5th Avenue. A small crowd of these protesters began standing on and smashing a police car that had been parked in front of the Nordstrom store at 500 Pine Street. Protesters later set the car on fire.
London Smith, an onlooker who had witnessed the police car on fire, said these activities are what happen when people feel unheard.
“I mean the city’s burning, police cars are on fire — what did they expect, you know? People are upset.” Smith said. “You know Martin Luther King [Jr.] says a riot is the language of the unheard and that’s exactly what’s happening — people are being unheard and now they’re taking to the streets.”
Roughly 15 minutes later, protesters on 6th Avenue and Olive Way began smashing three vehicles, one a police car, later setting all three vehicles on fire. By 4:50 p.m., protesters broke into and started looting stores including the Old Navy, Nordstrom, the Pacific Place shopping center, and the Eileen Fisher store on Pine Street.
One young man who participated in the looting, said that people are looting because they have had enough. When asked what needed to change in society, he said that he wasn’t sure at first.
“I don’t know, I feel like we’re stuck,” he told the Emerald. “Respect needs to change … people need to respect each other in general.”
One young woman who said her name was, Yolii, watched the looting and said she didn’t agree with that form of protest.
“Right now a lot of people are breaking stores. That’s not right. That’s not how you protest — that’s not how you get your freedom,” Yolii said. “But I believe White and Black people should be treated the same way because we have everything the same and why not … everybody should get treated the same way.”
Shortly after 5 p.m., Mayor Jenny Durkan declared a citywide curfew from 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. The Seattle Police Department called in the National Guard to help with crowd control, according to the Seattle Police Department, as the night wore on and the looting and protests continued.
At about 5:40 p.m., the police pushed protestors down 6th Avenue toward Olive Way using what appeared to be tear gas and flash bangs. As the night progressed, the police used this tactic to push protesters down various streets in the downtown area in order to break up the protests.
The protests slowly diminished as the night wore on and the police continued their crowd-dispersal tactics. Protestors appeared to throw bottles toward police, and it appeared that some set off fireworks, while others continued to loot and tag buildings.
As of 12:43 a.m. on May 31, the Seattle Police had arrested 27 individuals for a variety of offenses from assault to arson to destruction and looting, according to the Seattle Police Department.
Around midnight, most of the protesters were gone, save for a few who continued to loot while others swept up broken glass and threw soiled Old Navy clothes back into the store front.
One of the men who was cleaning up clothes off the sidewalk said he preferred to remain anonymous and that he wasn’t affiliated with any of the businesses.
“I don’t work here — this is just my city,” he said.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a recent journalism graduate with a passion for writing human-centric pieces. Some of her most recent work includes writing for the Jordan Times where she highlighted issues faced by refugees.
Featured image: Protestors confront the police in Seattle May 30 during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. (Photo: Susan Fried)