After four consecutive days of protests in Seattle, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan promised a crowd of thousands of demonstrators Tuesday afternoon that she would meet with their organizers the following day to start creating a plan for addressing police accountability and racial justice.
The impromptu meeting was a key moment after days of tension, and the first indication of a tangible step, beyond voicing sympathy, that Durkan and her administration were willing to take to address protesters’ calls for action. Still, there were limits to what she agreed to.
When asked if she could promise that there would be “no gas” from police as protesters continued their marches for a fifth night, Durkan demurred, saying she wasn’t going to “make a promise I can’t keep.”
The city indicated it doesn’t expect the protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minnesota, to subside soon: Officials announced Tuesday that Seattle’s overnight curfew would continue through Saturday morning, between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night. Thousands were back out on the streets, marching in downtown and in Capitol Hill at Cal Anderson Park.
Tuesday’s protests were peaceful until a little before midnight. At around 11:45 p.m., after the crowd had dwindled, police used tear gas and flash-bang devices against protesters at 11th Avenue and Pine Street near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. As police advanced down Pine, people could be seen nearby coughing, spitting and running away. At about 12:15 am, officers issued a three-minute dispersal order and continued to deploy flash-bang grenades.
Hours earlier, Durkan addressed the crowd from the steps of the city’s Emergency Operations Center at Fifth Avenue South and South Washington Street. David Lewis, an organizer who has helped lead protests for the past several days, asked Durkan what her immediate steps were to develop a proposal for “significant and immediate police reform.”
“The chief and I and others will work on a plan, but the plan has to come from community voices,” Durkan said to the group.
She added that the first step is to set up a process that brings individual leaders out to discuss specific and concrete objectives.
“That is going to be a process of honesty and healing, it will bring out anger and disillusionment, there will be disagreement and agreement … It will only be successful if we can find some mutual love and common humanity,” she said. “I know that has to be earned. That kind of trust isn’t here today, or you wouldn’t be in the streets marching.”
Lewis said that while he appreciated her words, he and others wanted to see a timeline.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Durkan responded, offering to meet outside the city’s Office of Emergency Management at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who joined Durkan, told the crowd that she’s listening to their voices.
“I stand with you,” Best said. “I really stand with you. I understand the hurt and the anger that everyone feels, especially after the death of George Floyd … As a Black woman, I feel the same pain you feel and just because I wear the uniform, that doesn’t change that.”
Durkan also addressed the black mourning stripe that covers police officers’ badge numbers, which sparked controversy over the weekend among protesters calling for more law enforcement accountability.
“The reason officers do that is to recognize fallen officers,” she said. She quickly added: “We are going to make a change … We are going to find a way that a badge number can be shown every time.”
William Parham, a 35-year-old Seattle resident who has been out protesting every night except Sunday, said he thought Durkan should have addressed demonstrators earlier.
“She’s trying to save face at this point,” he said, “So, it’s cool that she came out and I appreciate that she came out, I just don’t appreciate the dog-and-pony show and the kiddie court that they just brought out.”
Isabel Warren, a 31-year-old Renton resident who works as a nurse at Swedish, was passing out masks to the crowd. She said Durkan’s openness to communicating with the community is a “great first step.”
“But I think what everybody is really waiting for is more concrete plans and actions on her part. We want to know, step by step, how she’s going to heal our community and bridge the gap between people of color and the police force.”
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference after speaking to the protesters, Durkan and Best said they’d seen widely shared videos of a moment Monday night when police officers on Capitol Hill began shooting pepper spray, flash-bang grenades and tear gas at protesters crowded against a police barricade. The demonstrators had for hours been peaceful and videos showed the officers react to a tug of war with a protester over a pink umbrella.
Durkan expressed concern about how quickly the situation had escalated, while Best mentioned that officers were injured by projectiles thrown from the crowd. Both promised the incident, declared a riot by the police department, would be investigated for misconduct by the department’s civilian-led watchdog office and reviewed for policy purposes by its civilian inspector general. Neither rendered judgment on what happened, including whether officers complied with requirements to issue dispersal orders.
“We have come too far in this city on police reform and we cannot shirk from an honest and transparent or review of any police actions,” Durkan said, stressing that police use of force should be rare, necessary and proportional.”
Speaking to protesters earlier, the mayor described Monday’s “peaceful march” as beautiful and said, “No one is happy with how it ended.”
Durkan made no clear commitment to change course on a federal consent decree that since 2012 has required Seattle to undertake police reforms, though she did promise to listen to protester concerns. Her administration recently asked a judge to clear the way for Seattle to wrap up that oversight, with some caveats.
At Cal Anderson Park on Tuesday, many appeared determined to show their protest was anything but a “riot.”
At 5 p.m., nearly all the protesters kneeled in front of police and National Guard members in fatigues, who barricaded Pine Street less than a block away from the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct.
Most of the crowd was very young, but two longtime friends in their 70s, Margaret McMillan and Christopher Gee, stood near the front wearing surgical masks.
Gee, a Seattle resident who protested during the civil rights movement of the ’60s, said President Donald Trump’s comments about using the military drew her out. She feels the country is in danger of backsliding to the pre-civil-rights era.
“It’s very scary to me,” Gee said. “The systemic racism I naively thought was going away.”
McMillan, a Bellevue resident who helped clean up Bellevue Square after looting on Sunday, said she was disappointed more people her age weren’t at the protest.
“I understand it’s dangerous with COVID,” she said, noting almost every protester around her was wearing a mask, “but it’s our generations that caused a lot of this.”
“I think we didn’t do enough,” Gee added.
“We gave up,” McMillan said.
In an earlier version of this article, a quote by demonstrator William Parham contained an incorrect word.