My office can’t turn a blind eye to these protests.
Nonviolent civil disobedience has been used throughout history to raise public awareness and sympathy for pressing issues, including human and civil rights.
Sometimes protesters have become symbols of social movements and icons in history — think Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — inspiring debate and change through hunger strikes, vigils, kneeling, rallies, sit-ins, boycotts, marches and more.
A newer form of civil disobedience has been used in Seattle — the lengthy shutting down of public roadways. Immigrant-rights advocates lay down on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle on a June morning and linked their arms through PVC piping (called a “sleeping dragon”). A month prior, others erected large teepees and suspended themselves high above the same roadway in the name of environmental justice. Police officers asked the protesters to leave the roadway multiple times before ultimately making arrests and clearing the streets.
This new type of highly disruptive action can cause workers to arrive late for work and emergency-response vehicles to be stuck in traffic. The ripple impact of these unanticipated traffic blockades quickly spreads and creates gridlock in the downtown core of our city and on to state Highway 99. This impact will only be heightened with the forthcoming Viaduct teardown and our city entering the “period of maximum constraint” traffic strain.
Further, because of the methods used — “sleeping dragon” pipe chains and structures with people suspended above — city government has had to deploy firefighters, emergency medical technicians and specialized teams of police officers, along with special equipment to safely remove the PVC piping and restore the normal flow of traffic.
When protesters use these methods, they are doing more than advocating for their cause. They are creating a disruption that redirects vital resources that could be needed elsewhere. While tied up, those firefighters weren’t helping people in crisis and those police officers weren’t walking their beats, preventing crime or responding to other calls.
My office can’t turn a blind eye to these actions.
If you are arrested for an unpermitted street-closure protest that requires the redirecting of critical lifesaving emergency-response resources that may be needed elsewhere on a moment’s notice, it’s likely my office will file charges against you. If you want to make your point for a few minutes and get symbolically arrested to amplify your cause, SPD can do that, and my office will consider those incidents based on the circumstances of the disruption.
Make no mistake: I am fully committed to immigrants’ rights and environmental protection, and I believe the advocates’ causes to be just. But what I personally believe doesn’t matter. Ask yourself whether you’d really want me, a representative of the government, deciding which causes or underlying messages make a person’s actions immune from prosecution. You should expect I’d respond the same way if a group bound themselves together to call for a cause I disagree with, like construction of a border wall or to advocate for offshore oil drilling. Lady Justice is blindfolded in the name of objectivity, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents me from selectively enforcing laws based on the content of the message or whether I agree with the cause or not.
I’m certainly not going to tell you how to protest. How you decide to advocate for your cause is your choice. But I will tell you that if you undertake protests that unlawfully interfere with other people’s lives and compel the redirection of life-safety resources, then you should be prepared to courageously accept the consequences of your actions.