Seattle police arrested six people after a confrontation with an indigenous activist group Sunday afternoon in South Lake Union.
The arrests took place at Fairview Avenue North and North Republican Street after police formed a bicycle line to stop about 40 marchers with Protectors of the Salish Sea from getting onto Interstate 5, the Police Department said in a news release posted online.
That account was disputed by a leader of the marchers, who said they had no intention of trying to get onto the freeway and described the police response as an overreaction.
The Salish Sea group had begun what it described as a “prayer walk” at the Washington Park Arboretum on Sunday with an intended destination of Myrtle Edwards Park.
When they reached South Lake Union, according to SPD, some marchers tried to get past the bicycle line and one person assaulted an officer. As police tried to arrest the alleged assailant, “other individuals attempted to prevent the officers from doing so,” the department news release said. Officers used pepper spray to disperse the crowd and arrested five men and one woman.
Paul Chiokten Wagner, who founded the Salish Sea organization, said the peaceful walk Sunday was meant to call attention to a proposed oil pipeline across indigenous land in British Columbia.
Wagner said that despite what SPD said in its news release, the marchers were not planning on entering the freeway, but were headed toward Mercer Street on their way to Myrtle Edwards, while being shadowed by “an enormous amount” of police.
“All the sudden, they formed a line and tried to block that whole street we were on,” Wagner said. He said one march participant did try to get through a gap in the police line, but “I didn’t see him touch any police at all.”
A video posted on the Protectors of the Salish Sea’s Facebook page shows marchers playing drums and chanting as they make their way through city sidewalks and streets. That ends with the South Lake Union confrontation, when police are seen wielding bikes and firing pepper spray to disperse the group, while yelling “get back.”
SPD said the six protesters who were arrested were taken to the West Precinct and booked into King County Jail.