The George Floyd protest message is stronger than the rioting and opportunistic politics endeavoring to hijack it.

That was evident Sunday morning in downtown Seattle, where a remarkable brigade of citizens came to repair damage inflicted on property Saturday evening, when some participants in protests against racist policing instigated destructive chaos.

Protests across the nation were sparked by haunting video of Floyd being arrested in Minneapolis on May 25. The brutality of his last minutes, his neck under a police officer’s knee and pleading for relief, is tragically just the latest example of a Black man who died in an encounter with police in a nation where police disproportionately use violence against people of color.

The legitimate protest in some cities devolved and revealed a vacuum of national leadership, as President Donald Trump piled on with divisive, inflammatory tweets.

By Saturday evening, peaceful protests were overshadowed by destruction in cities like Minneapolis and Portland. In Seattle’s retail core, police cars burned, windows were smashed and stores looted.

“This is just gratuitous — it has nothing to do with the message. We have to make sure people stay focused on the message,” said Kelly Harris, who spent Sunday morning with his wife, Cheryl, removing graffiti.

Kelly Harris, a Seattle city attorney, cleaning graffiti at Seventh and Pine streets in Seattle Sunday morning.  (Brier Dudley)
Kelly Harris, a Seattle city attorney, cleaning graffiti at Seventh and Pine streets in Seattle Sunday morning. (Brier Dudley)

Harris, a Black city attorney and downtown resident, spoke while removing the words “Kill the SPD” painted near the intersection of  Seventh Avenue and Pine Street.

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“When we have people come and hijack a legitimate message for their own purposes, that’s what happens,” he said.

Seattle has an opportunity to show leadership.

Its police department continues to have challenges, particularly around accountability. But it has made substantial progress reducing force and unwarranted stops in the decade since the U.S. Department of Justice cracked down on its biased policing and excessive force. Last month, the city and the agency asked a federal judge to find it has remained in compliance and remove most remaining court oversight.

Seattle’s experience shows systemic reform is tedious and difficult.

Progress is unacceptably slow, when inequitable treatment and heinous killings of Black people continue to be a national disgrace betraying America’s promises of justice and freedom.

This demands public involvement, greater voter turnout and stronger leadership. It cannot be sidetracked by hoodlums.

Seattle also has experience with sinister disrupters who routinely crash and degrade protests. They exploited Saturday’s gathering, as evidenced by tired anarchist slogans and logos they painted on storefronts.

Even so, destruction was outshone by the love on display Sunday. That impulse only strengthens the protest’s message and builds support for change that must happen across the country.