Escalation without provocation

“As George Floyd protests continue in Seattle area, one turns chaotic on Capitol Hill” [June 1, Northwest] mischaracterized the scale and sequence of events in my neighborhood.

The Seattle Police Department’s tear-gassing wasn’t simply “disproportionate”; it was brutal, indiscriminate and persistent. I heard continuous explosions for 15 long minutes, and poison gas blanketed several blocks of a densely populated neighborhood. When people flooded onto Pike Street from the protest in clear distress, I left home to bring them water. Still blocks away from the gas deployment, I immediately experienced the unforgiving effects of a chemical rightly banned in war. I saw blood-red eyes and gasping mouths while officers donning gas masks stood unmoved nearby. That was on the periphery; I cringe to imagine the experience at the center.

Abundant evidence shows SPD escalated without material provocation and without warning. Until the moment of police provocation, it was a second day of peaceful protests.

The passive characterization of SPD’s role on Monday diminishes their responsibility as the central actor and determiner of events. This is what happened: SPD brutalized our neighbors while they peacefully protested that very injustice. The “few bad actors” were the cops — who rioted.

Akin Olugbade, Seattle

A new view of taking-a-knee protest

I need to apologize to Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of his message when he first protested. The recent police killing of George Floyd made the message perfectly clear. Kaepernick paid the price by losing his career in large part after President Donald Trump’s tweets accusing him of disrespecting the flag.

Who’s looking better right now, Kaepernick or Trump? By all rights, Kaepernick. He knelt peacefully in a prayerful manner to bring visibility to injustices and police brutality perpetrated on others like himself. Trump, on the other hand, used militarylike force to disperse a peaceful protest so he could walk through that area with a borrowed Bible to a church he hasn’t attended in almost three years to hold that book up to make him alone look strong. This offensive action is taking a knee to the groin of the Founding Fathers, everyone of all colors and faiths, the rule of law, justice, and the office of the president of the United States.

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Sterling Leibenguth, Spokane

White America’s ‘perverse solace’

I, like many Black folk, am disheartened by the news of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmand Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville; the weaponization of race against Chris Cooper in New York; the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities; and the obscene displays of white privilege and whiteness across the country.

I have come to realize something disturbingly profound, something I can only describe as a perverse solace, a kind of collective “comfort” of white folks with the brutalization and distress of Black people.

And though it would be easy to associate this with the blatantly ignorant or racist, I would proffer that the most dangerous and malignant form of a perverse solace is of our white brothers and sisters who either are blissfully ignorant or casually acceptant, which in this case, is most of white America.

Tyrone Brown, Seattle

Peaceful protests, violent reaction

We are a white family that participated in the May 30 demonstration at Westlake Park to protest the police violence responsible for the killing of George Floyd and so many of our Black neighbors.

We stood at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street for an hour, watching hundreds of people demonstrate peacefully until Seattle Police Department officers, without provocation or lawful warning, deployed flash-bang grenades and tear gas into the crowd. We started for home south on Interstate 5, stopping with the rest of traffic when marchers spilled onto the freeway. Waves of people flowed past us, cheering and chanting peacefully in a profoundly moving expression of anger and power and joy that we will never forget.

As of June 1, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability had received more than 12,000 complaints about SPD’s actions over the weekend, yet media outlets have run multiple stories feeding a false narrative that protesters’ violence justified a harsh police response.

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Seattle media must do its duty to report the truth: peaceful demonstrators, calling for justice, are suffering violence and the violation of their rights at the hands of the Seattle Police Department.

Alicia and Nick Glenwell, Kent

Address legacy of racism

Seattle’s rage is justified — but George Floyd’s death deserves more than weekend riots. His death deserves an end to violence. We must fortify our city for the better Seattle to come.

Floyd’s death, while a human tragedy, is an opportunity for progress. For the protesters, the police officers, the legislators. Let’s not let this week pass us by, into the margins of history books, as another instance of police brutality against Black lives. I do not want Floyd to sound as foreign to my children at my age as Rodney King did to me yesterday. I do not want the protests this weekend to spread the virus without spreading change also.

Seattle is not innocent. Since the 2010 shooting of John Williams, it has made changes to its police force, notably a 2017 police-accountability ordinance. But it has slid backward: the controversial collective bargaining agreement for the Seattle Police Officers Guild, and the rehiring of a suspended officer. We must address the legacy of racism we perpetuate as bystanders.

We must anticipate failings: How can biases be caught before they kill? What extra training can we give our officers? What communities need extra attention?

Floyd died alone, but his memory cannot.

Nathalie Mitchell, 17, Seattle

Tear gas

Re: “Seattle police chief agrees to ban use of tear gas on protesters amid ongoing demonstrations” [June 5, Northwest]:

If tear gas and other chemical weaponry are illegal in places of literal warfare, it is right that they should be illegal to use on U.S. citizens, residents, visitors, etc. This is a matter of enacting bans at all levels of government and enacting harsh penalties on racist police forces that continue to use such tactics.

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I am calling on Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sen. Jamie Pedersen and state Reps. Frank Chopp, and Rep. Nicole Macri to take action, too. Washington should be leading the country in disarming and defunding our police departments, which cause nothing but pain and suffering to Black communities and other communities of color. Not being able to find other solutions beyond policing is a failure of imagination and a failure of the state. It is no longer acceptable for elected officials to call for reform. The system is broken — it is time to rebuild with equity, transformative justice and prison abolition at the center.

Alexandra Kerl, Seattle

Stop violence against Black Americans

I am a pacifist and have believed in nonviolence since the late 1960s, when I was exposed to the work of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a white pacifist, I must condemn in the strongest terms the unrelenting violence perpetrated against Black people in this country for the past 401 years: slavery; torture; enshrinement in our Constitution that Black Americans are three-fifths a person; rape, lynching; Jim Crow; redlining; limited access to decent housing, healthful food, jobs, voting, education, medical care; a war on drugs targeted at Black communities; intentional separation of families; unequal treatment under the law; and police killings that continue to this day.

Let’s stop all this, and then we can talk about protesters.

To be clear, I’m not giving a pass to those who have looted and destroyed property. However, those in power, those who are uncomfortable with or threatened by discussions of racism, or those who are just plain racists are always very adept at quickly changing the topic to focus on the pain of white people. The attention needs to stay on the continuing violence against Black people in America.

Leigh Jones-Bamman, Bainbridge Island