The impassioned and largely peaceful Seattle Black Lives Matter protest stretched into the evening, with demonstrators marching through the downtown shopping district. Four protesters were arrested, and a police officer was injured.

Share story

On a day usually defined by frenzied bargain hunting, Black Lives Matter protesters thronged downtown Seattle on Friday, calling for police accountability and decrying the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law-enforcement officers.

The impassioned and largely peaceful Black Friday event began in the early afternoon and stretched well past dark. An estimated crowd of 700 people at times blocked traffic and tried to force its way into the Westlake Center and Pacific Place malls, only to be turned away by police.

Related: See how the event unfolded

The annual tree-lighting ceremony proceeded on schedule, though protesters’ chants often drowned out the musical performers.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Earlier in the day, shoppers at Macy’s local flagship store were taken aback when protesters poured onto the sales floor, chanting and hoisting signs as they wound past perfume counters and handbag displays. But some, like Vivian Smarr of Spokane, took the interruption in stride — and even welcomed it.

“I can’t believe this. It’s like a movie, right?” she said. “I’m glad they did this. The rich shop while the poor die.”

Many of those who joined in the march spoke out against the materialism that they say has come to dominate the holiday season. Several carried signs that read: “Black lives matter more than Black Friday.”

“Everyone out here is getting their consumerism on and not paying attention to the things that matter,” said protester Jessica Smart. “They’re out here buying trinkets … when there’s more important things like racism.”

Some of the tensest moments came when the surging crowd confronted cordons of police outside the malls. Four protesters were arrested, and one officer suffered a dislocated shoulder in a scuffle and was taken to the hospital. Some minor property damage was reported.

The outpouring in Seattle echoed similar events in cities from Portland to Cincinnati. In Chicago, where a white police officer was charged this week with murder for allegedly shooting a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times, an estimated crowd of 2,000 blocked access to stores in the city’s ritzy “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. Led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the protesters called for the ouster of the city police superintendent and other leaders.

Black Lives Matter protesters march through downtown Seattle streets and the downtown Macy’s on Friday afternoon. (Seattle Times staff)

Last year, Black Friday protests were sparked by a grand-jury decision not to indict the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. A galvanizing event for this year’s protests was the release this week of a dash-cam video that showed McDonald veering away from officers before he was shot, and being repeatedly struck by bullets after he had fallen to the ground.

Seattle’s 2014 tree-lighting ceremony was disrupted by protests, which forced the early closure of several transit stations and Westlake Center. That didn’t happen this year, though the march was much bigger. Participants of all ages, including many families, came from across the state and the Puget Sound region.

Amber Braxton, 36, came from her home in Bothell with her husband and 5-year-old son in tow.

“It’s been painful to see how many lives have been lost, and protesting is part of the history of our country,” she said.

The former public-school teacher said she worries about her husband, who is black, and about their sons interacting with the police.

Braxton said she was a little nervous about bringing her son, but she wanted him to see the protest “because it’s happening and because this is about his future.”

Angel Mitchell, 25, didn’t bring her 5-year-old, but said she has already had to explain racism to him, along with the deaths of black youths like 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed last year by a Cleveland police officer, responding to call of a someone with a gun. The boy was holding a pellet gun.

“My son deserves the same chance in this country as everyone else, and I’m here to make sure that happens,” Mitchell said. “If I change three minds today, then I have done my job.”

Justina Guyott, 57, of Rainier Beach, carried a red sign with the Malcom X quote, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” Guyott said she came downtown to “put my white body on the line” by protesting. “My purpose is to raise awareness among other citizens that police killings are still happening and that the police are getting away with murder in our name,” she said.

For some who just wanted to enjoy a day of shopping and holiday festivities, the protest was off-putting. Wife and husband Jeannie and Chris Kincaid, of Seattle, had hoped to take in the tree lighting.

“Just having the barricade of cops here, you’re here for the Christmas spirit, and it just doesn’t feel right,” Chris Kincaid said. “It’s a public space, though, and they can do that.”

Marilyn Covarrubias came to the protest mourning the death of her 37-year-old son, Daniel, who was killed by police in Lakewood this spring. Recently hospitalized for hallucinations, he was spotted at a lumber yard and fired upon when officers mistook a cellphone in his hand for a weapon.

“I wake up in the morning crying and I go to sleep crying, that’s how my life has changed,” Covarrubias said. “The killing has to stop. The system has to change.”