After intense confrontations between demonstrators and police on Saturday, protests Sunday got off to a calmer start as police, demonstrators and observers traded allegations over violent acts the day prior.
Only a handful of people gathered at Westlake Park for planned Sunday morning demonstrations against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two people were detained and released by Seattle Police, protesters said, before organizers redirected the group to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
By early evening, a few hundred demonstrators gathered in the shaded grounds of Seattle Central College.
“Don’t incite violence. We’re better than that,” an organizer told the crowd, before the group held votes on whether to demonstrate and where to go.
Meanwhile, in online postings police and protesters asserted differing narratives of Saturday’s standoff.
The demonstrations Saturday, which were aimed as a show of support for protesters in Portland squaring off nightly with federal agents, left a trail of scattered vandalism and fires.
Police said demonstrators threw fireworks, bottles and rocks; officers used pepper spray, flash-bang grenades and sponge-tipped impact rounds. At least 45 demonstrators were arrested, according to police. Police Chief Carmen Best said an explosive device blew a hole through the wall of the department’s East Precinct.
In a Sunday blotter post, police said some 59 officers were injured Saturday. The blotter post, which included fleshy images of police wounds and a body camera supercut of officers being struck with projectiles, said injuries included abrasion, bruising, burns and a torn meniscus. Protesters also posted myriad images on social media of wounds they said were caused by police munitions.
Demonstrator Cass Bunting, 24, was near 13th Avenue and Pine Street just after 4 p.m. Saturday and trying to leave the area when a brigade of bicycle officers split the crowd, separating Bunting from friends.
Moments later, Bunting said an officer tossed a device. Bunting heard no warning.
“I felt an explosion at my feet,” Bunting said. “I promptly lost feeling.”
Bunting fell over, called for a medic and was rushed off on other demonstrators’ shoulders.
“It was very clear I should not put any weight on my feet. It progressively got more painful,” Bunting said, adding that a chemical irritant got into the wounds, which remained sore Sunday.
Bunting posted a photo of bloodied and burned ankles to Twitter.
“Those kind of instances of brutality brings to the surface the violence of the system and the inequity and the problems that people are protesting,” Bunting said, adding that officers “were haphazardly tossing things into the crowd.”
Legal observers took issue with the police response Saturday, saying officers appeared to target some observers.
Observers from the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild attend demonstrations to witness the police response and are a common sight at protests — recognizable by their bright green hats. The group said Sunday officers had “engaged in the indiscriminate use of” pepper spray, blast balls, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades Saturday and “specifically targeted” legal observers with pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, police bikes and by “needlessly grabbing and shoving” them. A video provided by the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild shows an observer in a green hat standing at the front of a line of protesters when an officer sprays pepper spray and douses her face.
Although a federal judge recently blocked a blanket ban on crowd-control devices like blast balls, Seattle police are under an order from another federal judge not to use crowd-control weapons on peaceful protesters and to not deploy pepper spray and projectiles “indiscriminately” but, instead, targeted at specific threats.
The order stems from a case brought by attorneys for the ACLU of Washington on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and several individuals.
“There is absolutely no way that use of force complies with [the] order,” said Molly Tack-Hooper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington, of the observer video.
In early July, the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild wrote to Best asking for assurances SPD would not “attack, harass or arrest them either for recording police actions or for not following a dispersal order.”
Rebecca Boatright, SPD’s executive director of legal affairs, responded, telling the group SPD recognized media and observers’ rights “to peacefully observe and record the activities of law enforcement officers during protests and following any orders to disperse.”
Seattle police did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.
“We have never experienced the kind of direct targeted aggressive violence from law enforcement numerous times in one legal observing engagement as we did last night,” said Ravisha Kumar, a past president of the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild who trains observers. The Guild is considering a lawsuit, Kumar said.
“If [protesters] see us as victims of targeted violence when we are peacefully volunteering as legal observers … we can imagine the chilling effect that has on our community’s protesters to feel safe and empowered to exercise their Constitutional rights out in the streets,” Kumar said.
Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, said SPD sent the allegations to the Office of Police Accountability.
“Mayor Durkan finds all allegations of targeting or retaliation of reporters or legal observers deeply troubling and chilling, and Chief Best under no circumstances will tolerate those actions by officers,” Nyland said in an email.
Nyland said SPD, with stakeholders and accountability groups’ input, would review and update guidelines about legal observers and journalists at protests.
Federal agents in Seattle, who were sent by the Trump administration against the wishes of local officials, had remained largely out of sight as of Sunday evening. Still, their presence in Seattle remained an animating force for protesters.
Leah Moreno, 28, and Robin Cruz, 26, said they attended Sunday’s early demonstration primarily to protest federal intervention by the Trump administration.
“We think they’re just escalating the tension and aren’t warranted,” said Moreno, an accountant.
The pair said they aren’t happy with local police either.
“The police violence against protesters seems like they’re honestly giving us more reason to defund them,” Moreno said.
Cruz said she thinks this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests — against structural racism and for police reform — are working.
“The city council has moved their discourse toward police reform and police violence,” she said.
Moreno and Cruz say they’ve attended a handful of demonstrations this summer and have been shocked by officers’ response — and suspect people at home watching cellphone footage, have been too. “It feels like seeing that police violence has moved people from thinking about the problem in a theoretical way to something more visceral,” Moreno said.
Cruz agreed: “It becomes personal.”