After Seattle protests led to property damage again on Saturday, Seattle Police Interim Chief Adrian Diaz said Sunday that a drain of resources on protest response is hindering the Police Department’s ability to respond to crime elsewhere in the city.
“The violence and lawbreaking need to stop,” Diaz said at a news conference streamed by KOMO TV.
Since the end of May, protesters in Seattle have continued to demonstrate in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality. While the majority of the protests have been peaceful, some have resulted in property damage and clashes with police. The vandalism had mostly been sporadic earlier in the summer, but tensions ramped up in the past week with multiple days marked by arrests, broken windows, graffiti or fires set in the street.
Diaz said his plan, announced earlier this month, to send 100 officers previously working inside the precinct buildings back out on patrol will take place over the next three days to “help us be able to respond throughout the whole city.”
And he said that while peaceful protest will be supported, his officers will “arrest as many individuals as we can who engage in criminal behavior” at the protests.
He said that crowds “with no clear message” have been breaking windows, setting fires, assaulting officers, throwing explosives and blocking first responders. Diaz said legitimate calls for social justice and change “are being drowned out by relentless violence, mayhem and illegal behavior.”
He referenced the incident Wednesday when a protester wielding a metal baseball bat struck a police officer on the head. The blow cracked the officer’s helmet and Diaz said without that protection the officer would have sustained a “critical or deadly injury.”
That same night, a police officer was caught on video walking his bike over the head of a man lying on the ground. That officer has been placed on paid leave and is being investigated for potential criminal conduct. Diaz said he recognized that some people blame officers for violence against protesters.
In such cases, he said, “our robust accountability system will investigate any and every complaint against police officers.”
Diaz pleaded in the meantime for space to return the focus to normal policing duties.
At the same time as dealing with nightly protest confrontations, he said police within the last four days have responded to “multiple shots-fired incidents,” have rescued a victim of a carjacking and kidnapping, and dealt with two incidents where individual with weapons were barricaded inside a house.
He also mentioned an illegal stunt car show Saturday night near the Space Needle, during which muscle car drivers spun through tight doughnuts before a crowd of about 100 spectators encircling the event.
At least twice during this spectacle, as caught on video by Cole Miller of KOMO TV, drivers lost control and sideswiped into the crowd, heavily hitting people on the edges of the circle.
By the time Seattle police reached the scene where the cars had been spinning, the cars involved were gone and no arrests were made.
Diaz said that illegal car street shows and street racing are “a regional issue” that have occurred in Kent and south of King County as well as within the city.
At one point, Diaz seemed to refer directly to calls to defund the police and to drastically change the city’s approach to dealing with crime.
“We cannot do this work to create a new model of community safety while fires burn in our streets,” he said. “We know there is racism in our society. But this is not how you actually create change.”
Asked if he was sending a message to the mayor and the City Council, Diaz responded “It’s a message for all of us.”