A debate unfolded online Sunday night over whether protests against police brutality should include visits to public officials’ homes — and whether such a discussion distracts from the fight for Black lives — after Seattle police Chief Carmen Best implored the City Council to “forcefully call for the end of these tactics.”
Best wrote a letter to the council Sunday after protesters showed up outside her Snohomish County home Saturday night, the latest in a series of visits the demonstrations have paid to those who hold public power in Seattle, including City Council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Residents blocked a road into Best’s neighborhood with a truck, according to the letter and posts on social media from that evening. Protesters told KING-TV they stayed on the road and never stepped foot on anyone’s property.
Multiple posts that appeared to come from Best’s neighbors referred to protesters as “terrorists,” and at least one included a photo of a gun. Protesters told KING-TV some neighbors pointed guns at them.
“Understand that white vigilantes and police are two sides of the same coin when it comes to state sanctioned violence against Black peoples,” read a tweet Sunday night from attorney, activist and former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver.
Best’s letter said her neighbors “were concerned by such a large group” and didn’t allow protesters to “trespass or engage in other illegal behavior in the area, despite repeated attempts to do so.” She didn’t elaborate on the behavior in question but wrote that the Snohomish County sheriff was “monitoring the situation.”
Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney said most of the protesters were dispersing or had already left when deputies arrived. He said he spoke with Best, who was not at home at the time, on the phone and “assured her that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office would deploy whatever resources were necessary to protect her, her family and her property.”
“The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has been supportive and accommodating to all peaceful protests that have occurred in our jurisdiction,” Fortney said in a statement. “With that said, protesters targeting one individual’s house is a bullying tactic that will certainly require an extra patrol response to ensure every resident in Snohomish County can feel safe in their own home, with their loved ones, no matter what they choose to do to make a living.”
Earlier this year in Snohomish County, hundreds gathered with assault rifles, handguns and other firearms after rumors spread about Antifa activists planning to bring chaos to the community. Predictions of violence never materialized. False claims of Antifa protesters wreaking havoc on small cities have also hit other areas of the country in the wake of unrest over the police killing of George Floyd, spreading fear in already tense communities.
Activists and some journalists disputed accusations of violence during Saturday’s events and pointed out that gathering outside politicians’ homes has long been a way demonstrators call attention to causes.
“Clearly, emailing and calling them is not working, because they don’t respond, they don’t even reach back out. But the second you show up to their house, they want to come out and talk,” one protester from the group Everyday March told KING-TV this week in an interview that was also live-streamed on the @seattleeveningmarch Instagram page. “And then, all of a sudden, we’re ‘intimidating,’ we’re ‘bullying’ — no. It’s because you guys are ignoring the constituents that put you in those offices. Period.”
Seattle protesters have recently marched through other city officials’ neighborhoods: Last week, the nightly march made its way to City Council President Lorena González’s home in West Seattle and Councilmember Andrew Lewis’ residence in Queen Anne. Both stepped outside to talk to the protesters and voice their support for the movement.
In late June, hundreds of people marched from Warren G. Magnuson Park to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home. That march prompted the mayor to ask the City Council to investigate Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who took part in the June demonstration. Because Durkan’s address hasn’t been publicly disclosed due to her background as a former U.S. attorney, she said the march was organized with a “reckless disregard of the safety of (her) family and children.”
González later said she wouldn’t fulfill Durkan’s request, maintaining that she wanted the council to instead concentrate on other work — including the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis and civil rights movement currently unfolding — that demands their attention.
A group of four protesters interviewed on KING-TV said they were disappointed by the letter from Best, who is Black, because Seattle’s Black community had supported her becoming the police chief.
Best’s letter on Sunday also had some questioning the wisdom and efficacy of asking the Seattle City Council to tell demonstrators where they can and cannot protest.
Each side accused the other of distracting the public from issues at the heart of recent protests: social justice, an end to systemic racism and police brutality, and defunding police to direct money toward other community needs.
“The events of this summer were initiated in a moment of grief and outrage over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and so many other Black and Brown people suffering at the hands of injustice,” Best wrote. “All of us must ensure that this righteous cause is not lost in the confusion of so many protestors now engaging in violence and intimidation, which many are not speaking against.”
Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for activist group Demand Progress, tweeted that Best’s letter was meant to direct attention away from Seattle police’s own actions — “a classic ‘change the conversation’ game ahead of this week’s #DefundSPD vote.”
Seattle City Council members on Friday unveiled a plan to shrink the Police Department, starting with a spate of budget proposals that could reduce the force by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition this year.
Most of the proposals, including cuts aimed at the department’s SWAT team, encampment-removal team and mounted unit, appear to have enough support to pass. Those moves and an accompanying resolution, stating the council’s intent to make more dramatic changes in next year’s budget and to create a new Department of Community Safety, could pave the way for sweeping changes in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that have surged throughout the city and across the nation.
Yet the package won’t immediately accomplish what many protesters have been calling for, and what police Chief Carmen Best has issued warnings about: reducing the Police Department’s spending by at least 50% and redirecting that money to other priorities.
Although Best has said she supports moving certain police duties to community-based models, she’s voiced concerns that cutting the Police Department’s budget by 50% could bring “catastrophic” consequences, including mass layoffs and the closure of the Southwest Precinct.
At a socially distanced conversation in a Central District park between officers and residents last month, police Assistant Chief Eric Greening also said slashing the budget would mean many youth and community programs would be the first to go.
The council’s budget committee may vote on the matter Wednesday.
Seattle Times staff reporters Daniel Beekman and Mike Carter contributed to this report.