Seattle council members protest after tear gas used on crowd

SEATTLE -- Just days after Seattle’s mayor and police chief promised a month-long moratorium on using a type of tear gas to disperse protesters, the department used it again during an overnight protest — bringing severe criticism Monday from City Council members, vows to overhaul the department and an additional call for the mayor’s resignation.

“How many people need to write in about being gassed in their own homes? How many people have to be sprayed in the street every night or experience getting hit with flash bombs or rubber bullets?” Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said during a council briefing. “The mayor should ... ask herself if she is the right leader, and resign.”

Council President Lorena Gonzalez and others also expressed their frustration with Mayor Jenny Durkan and the police, signaling radical change is on the way.

Socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant had already called for Durkan’s resignation. Gonzalez said the time is past for mere “reform” of the police department, and that the council must think in a “transformational way” about how the city views public safety and how it funds the police.

“When I hear people say there’s just a few bad apples on the police force, I adamantly disagree with that,” said Council Member Debra Juarez. “It’s just not a healthy tree. We need to plant a new tree.”

Durkan’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a subsequent interview, Mosqueda said that while she believes the mayor should consider resigning, changing who heads the city is less important than systemic change in its approach to public safety.

The developments in Seattle came soon after Minneapolis City Council members said they intend to disband the city’s police department following the killing of George Floyd and protests against police brutality and racism that have erupted around the globe.

Mosqueda, the Seattle council’s budget chair, announced an inquest into the police budget to get a better understanding of how the department spends money. She said she wants to cut police funding by half and reinvest the money “in communities that we’ve failed,” including in affordable housing and mass transit.

The mayhem Sunday night in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood happened for a second night in a row, after a couple nights of peaceful protests. Police used flash bangs and tear gas to break up a crowd after authorities said people threw rocks and fireworks at officers.

Earlier Sunday evening, in an incident captured in dramatic video, a man drove a car at protesters, hit a barricade and is suspected of shooting a 27-year-old protester who had reached into the driver’s side window in an attempt to stop him. The protester, who was shot in the shoulder, walked away from the scene while being attended to by medics, and police said they arrested the driver, identified as Nikolas Fernandez, for investigation of assault after he got out of the car brandishing a handgun.

Fernandez waived an initial court appearance Monday and was being held on $200,000 bail. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could speak for him.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told MSNBC on Monday that the driver’s motive is not known but it was clear that he was driving into the crowd and not having a mechanical problem.

Hours later, the crowd became unruly and started throwing objects, police said. Officers ordered people to disperse and announced on Twitter that “CS gas has been authorized,” referring to tear gas. In the same tweet, the department said there was a man with a gun in the intersection; it was not clear whether that referred to the same driver who had been arrested hours earlier, or, if it was a different gunman, why the department would use clouds of tear gas, potentially obscuring where he was.

The authorization to use the tear gas Sunday night came after Durkan and Best on Friday announced a 30-day moratorium on tear gas and a review of use of force after complaints from protesters and elected officials.

Durkan and Best have apologized over the use of tear gas and pepper spray on nonviolent protesters but have said police must deal with a small criminal element within the demonstrations. More than two dozen elected officials have signed a letter calling on the mayor and chief to drastically de-escalate the police department’s response.

On Saturday night, police also used flash bang devices and pepper spray to disperse protesters on Capitol Hill after they said rocks, bottles and explosives were thrown at officers. Best said six officers were injured, including two who were taken to a hospital.

Durkan on Sunday night said she would freeze spending on police technology, weapons, vehicles and buildings until further talks with community members and find $100 million in budget allocations for community needs. That money will not come from police budgets, as many protesters have demanded, Durkan said.

Best said police “want to meet peace with peace” but that officers must protect themselves, law enforcement facilities and demonstrators from “bad actors” in the protest crowds.

Protesters have gathered across the U.S. and around the world to demonstrate against the death of Floyd, the handcuffed black man who died after pleading for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck.