by Carolyn Bick
Tae Phoenix was across the street, but said she heard the words clear as day: “Quick, boys. Let’s go get our guns and shoot ‘em.”
And just like that, Phoenix found herself walking across the street to confront the man — later identified as Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Battalion Chief Alan Cox — who had allegedly made the comment to his two young children, after he learned that the group preparing to march down the block was protesting for Black Lives Matter.
Phoenix said she asked Cox, who was standing in his house’s driveway when he allegedly made the comment, what he thought he was doing, and why he thought it was okay to say something like that, particularly in front of children.
“He seemed a little surprised. … He kind of looked at me with this sort of very condescending sneer … and basically said, ‘Why don’t you just move along, lady?’ And he said, ‘lady’ like it was an insult,” Phoenix said.
The protest, which took place in and around Paramount Park in Shoreline on July 25, was held specifically to support young Black and Brown children, after 13-year-old protest co-organizer Kailyn Jordan was allegedly targeted by a neighbor.
Kailyn said she had been explaining to a fellow neighbor why her “Blue Lives Matter” flag was hurtful and harmful. Another neighbor, apparently overhearing Kailyn, allegedly tried to hit the teenager with a car, and then jumped out and verbally assaulted and threatened the girl.
“She said if she was a police officer, she would happily shoot and lynch me,” Kailyn said. “Then, she said if I put any Black Lives Matter stuff near her house, she would shoot me.”
Phoenix said she told Cox’s children that what their father had said was wrong and left the confrontation shaken. After rejoining her friends, she told them what had happened, because she was alone at the time she heard the alleged comment. Fellow protestor Kira McGieson — who later stood watch for a time with Phoenix in Cox’s driveway — said that Phoenix “looked scared, and upset, and rattled.”
Given the context of the march, as well as violent reactions to protestors in other marches around the country over the last several years in places like Charlottesville, Virginia, and more recently in Seattle and in Austin, Texas, Phoenix said she didn’t know whether the man was serious. Either way, she didn’t want to take the chance that he was. So, she and some friends, who traded off keeping Phoenix company, stood in Cox’s driveway, as the marchers were walking down the street.
Phoenix later speculated in a text that, if Cox “decides to mount a public defense of his behavior, he will paint it as another example of the humorless left being ‘triggered’ by a simple joke and reframing this as a First Amendment issue.”
“It’s long past time that we dismiss that defense. Jokes like the one he made are the bedrock of normalizing white supremacy. They offer plausible deniability for remarks that are intended to justify and perpetuate centuries of deadly and brutal oppression,” Phoenix said. “Free speech does not protect people from the social and political consequences of their words. … I chose to speak publicly about what I witnessed because Seattle, particularly Black Seattle, deserves to know whether the people who show up when a house is ablaze or someone needs emergency medical attention understands that they are fully human.”
Ultimately, nothing else happened with Cox, Phoenix said. But there have been reports from other protestors marching that day of other incidents that concerned and rattled them.
Dawn Jordan, Kailyn’s mother and protest co-organizer along with Kailyn’s aunt, Lynnette Jordan, said she doesn’t have the full details of everything yet — she and others are still piecing together a full picture from protestors’ accounts. However, Dawn said she herself watched a white woman pacing back and forth in the street, brandishing a golf club at Saturday’s marchers, while yelling at the protestors to “stay off her property.”
Jordan said they were nowhere near the woman’s property, because the marchers were walking in the street. She also said that there were later reports of the same woman threatening to shoot marchers with a garden hose, though Jordan didn’t see or hear this herself.
Garden hoses don’t have the same amount of water pressure as emergency response crew hoses, but such a threat still conjures images of police abuse of Black protestors demonstrating for Civil Rights in the 1960s.
Dawn said there were also reports of two white men — neither of whom was wearing a mask, unlike the protestors, who had specifically been asked to do so — who appeared to be scouting out the area. According to witnesses, they appeared to be taking pictures and video, and when a protestor confronted one of them and asked that they stop and delete the footage, things apparently got “a little physical.” She also said protestors had to prevent three young men who appeared to be in their 20s from continuing to follow and harass protestors by hurling expletives and taunts at the marchers.
With the exception of Cox’s alleged comment, all of this happened in the space of the 20-minute march down the block. But to the Jordans, none of this is unusual. For them, it’s just another day that ends in “y.”
Both Dawn and Lynnette grew up Indigenous and Black in the “very white neighborhood” that is Shoreline. The two older Jordans said their family was always made to feel it was somehow their fault when white people with Confederate flags on the back of their trucks spat the “n”-word out the window at them.
To this day, they said, the culture of Shoreline is still one that caters to exclusion, white silence, and gaslighting Black and Brown people. It’s time that Shoreline hold itself accountable, Dawn said.
“They need to be out here supporting all of our kids, but right now, specifically, we need our Black and Brown kids to know that they are safe here. They don’t need to ever feel like somebody will hit them with a car because they don’t agree with them,” Dawn said. “We know from our history in Shoreline that this is not an isolated incident. This is not unusual. It just never gets talked about. … This is enough. This is not okay. And we should not be doing all the work.”
The Emerald reached out to SFD, which provided a written statement over email that said the department has been made aware of the allegation against Cox, though it did not specifically name Cox in the statement. SFD said it has put “this member” on administrative leave while it investigates the allegation.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.