Riots, looting, cars set ablaze in downtown Seattle chaos after protests
SEATTLE -- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a 5 p.m. curfew for the entire city Saturday and Washingon Gov. Jay Inslee activated the National Guard after rioters torched police vehicles and spilled onto Interstate 5, forcing the freeway’s temporary closure through the central part of the Northwest’s largest city.
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Seattle in the rain to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A largely peaceful demonstration happened Saturday afternoon, while police later deployed flash bangs to disperse people they said had begun throw rocks and bottles at officers. Police also pepper-sprayed demonstrators who got close to police lines, and officers with bicycles pushed people to move back.
The Washington State Patrol temporarily closed both directions of Interstate 5 through the city between Interstate 90 and Highway 520. Protesters marched through the lanes of the freeway.
“The freeway is not a safe or appropriate place for demonstration,” state patrol Chief John Batiste said in a statement.
Seattle police said two rifles were stolen out of a police patrol cars and have since been recovered.
Q13 News crew witnessed multiple police cruisers set ablaze, other vehicle fires and people breaking into retail stores and other businesses.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said 27 people were arrested during the riots on various charges including assault, looting and arson.
Multiple people - including protesters and police officers - were injured, Best said.
Durkan late Saturday afternoon announced a curfew to begin at 5 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday to last through 5 a.m. in response to the protests. She also issued an order declaring an emergency and an order banning weapons.
"Due to the actions of some groups who wanted to take advantage of this situation – what started peacefully around noon, became violent and destructive around 2:40pm," Chief Best said. "At that time, officers began being assaulted with rocks, bottles, and other projectiles. At 2:38pm the first dispersal order was issued as the demonstration became unlawful and then a riot. Offenders were throwing and using incendiary devices including Molotov cocktails. These devices quickly ignited several city and private vehicles."
"As the situation continued to intensify, protestors entered the freeway at Spring St and attacked government buildings," Best continued. "As these groups refused to listen to commands or stop their destruction, SPD officers then had to deploy crowd control measures to end the lawlessness as assaults on officers and property continued. At no time have officers discharged their firearms. There were countless uses of non-lethal and crowd control tools."
Although many dispersed soon after, dozens remained downtown in defiance of the curfew, setting fires, breaking into retail stores and taking items while police fired tear gas and arrested at least one person.
The governor said he had activated up to 200 members of the Washington National Guard in response to a request from the city to help protect property, as well as manage crowds and traffic. Guard personnel will be unarmed and work under the direction of city leadership, the statement from the governor’s office said.
“The National Guard is on stand by to assist the Seattle Police Department as requested by Mayor Durkan,” Inslee said. “They will only be utilized if absolutely necessary and we appreciate their efforts to help in this important work.”
Residents should remain in their homes “to the extent possible” and not travel in or through Seattle, said Durkan, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Seattle Fire Department Chief Harold Scoggins in a statement.
“This curfew is intended to prevent violence and widespread property damage, and to prevent the further community spread of COVID-19 through continued gathering,” they said.
"While most of those protests were peaceful, there have been isolated but significant events of violence and destruction. This temporary curfew is intended to preserve the health and safety of our residents by keeping our streets safe and accessible for essential workers and first responders and preventing the further spread of COVID-19,” said Mayor Durkan.
"The temporary curfew does not impact people who need to commute to work during these hours, people experiencing homelessness, people in a medical emergency or people in a dangerous situation, first responders, health care workers, and the news media. In addition, the curfew does not require businesses to close while it is in effect, and it will not alter public transit schedules."
The city's Proclamation of Civil Emergency stated effects of the demonstration included:
The city of Seattle also issued an order banning weapons.
Earlier in the day, protesters began gathering outside police headquarters, a day after dozens of people marched through the downtown area, with black-clad anarchists smashing a storefront window.
“What’s his name?” a protest leader repeatedly asked fellow demonstrators Saturday.
“George Floyd!” they answered, then began chanting “No justice, no peace.”
Seattle police were reviewing the use of force in one of at least seven arrests Friday night.
Seattle police earlier Saturday responded to questions about their body camera footage from the protests.
A department spokesperson said, according to policy, they are "prohibited from recording lawful demonstrations."
The peaceful portion of the Saturday afternoon rally was organized by a group working to reduce fatal police shootings.
“We can’t have officers killing people — unarmed people — and not being charged and convicted,” the group’s leader, Andre Taylor said. “We need to see officers being held accountable.”
Speakers at the Westlake Center event included community and youth leaders and pastors. A march to the federal courthouse was planned.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best both said at a Friday evening news conference they were outraged by the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck.
Durkan said the killing reflected the “deep and systemic racism” in the United States. She also said as a former federal prosecutor she believed it was right that the officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck is facing charges.
There were also rallies planned Saturday in Tacoma.
The tense scenes in Seattle followed a violent night in Portland, Oregon, where authorities said those responsible for the damage to police headquarters, a shopping mall and businesses will be tracked down.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also imposed a state of emergency and a curfew, which was to resume Saturday at 8 p.m. and lift at 6 a.m. Sunday. And city officials in Eugene, Oregon, enacted a 9 p.m. Saturday curfew in part of the city following destructive behavior during protests against the George Floyd killing.
Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone, who is African American, said the anger and violence is not only about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but a system that allows people of color to “feel fear every day.”
“This is a moment of reckoning,” Boone said at a news conference with other city leaders. “We are going forward, together, to create an actual community where respect and dignity are our core values.”
Jo Ann Hardesty, an African American member of the City Council, said those responsible for the looting and burning were a small group of people who took the opportunity of earlier peaceful protests — that police had largely stayed away from — “to steal stuff and break stuff.”
“We can get justice for black people, but we don’t have to destroy our community to do it,” Hardesty said. She offered to help identify rioters from video images so they could be arrested and prosecuted.
In the past, Portland has seen numerous violent protests, often between far-right demonstrators and those opposed to them. Community activists have told police their heavy presence can be a trigger for violence. Their presence was light as peaceful protests started Friday.
The People of Color Caucus of the Oregon Legislature called the rioters opportunists and outliers who were disregarding the leadership of black community organizers. At one point, black community members placed themselves between a business and vandals to protect it from being destroyed, they said.
“We are just beginning to lay plans to reopen and these actions are destructive to our efforts as we try to weave together what COVID-19 has already torn apart,” the nine lawmakers said.
A man in a car was grazed by a bullet, believed to have been fired by a protester, and he was treated and released from a hospital, police said.
“No one could have predicted what we saw last night,” Acting Police Chief Chris Davis said at the news conference. “It’s extremely difficult to predict where we’re going to have this kind of violence.”
Two police officers were injured by a thrown incendiary device and a rock.
Blazes continued to burn early Saturday morning in multiple locations downtown — including a building that housed a bank — and broken glass littered the streets.
Portland police arrested at least 13 people before dawn Saturday. Seattle police were reviewing the use of force in one of at least seven arrests Friday night.
Durkan and Best told a Friday evening news conference they were outraged by the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck. They also implored protesters to be peaceful
Durkan said the killing reflects the “deep and systemic racism” in the United States.