BELLEVUE — Bellevue declared a civil emergency throughout the Eastside city and imposed a curfew Sunday evening for downtown in response to protests that began in the afternoon and turned violent after groups broke into the city’s high-end malls and started stealing items.
The crowds and looting prompted Mayor Lynne Robinson to request assistance from the National Guard for the first time in at least 30 years, and a warning from Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett that anyone caught not adhering to the curfew would “go to jail.”
The protests over police misconduct, triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, have seized larger metro cities, including Seattle, but surprised Bellevue, which, as a city of about 148,000 residents, traditionally sees fewer instances of street activism. Gov. Jay Inslee activated the National Guard in response to the request, with up to 200 unarmed troops to assist the city’s officers.
The curfew, through Monday morning, applied to the area within the boundaries of 100th Avenue Northeast, Main Street/Southeast First Street, 120th Avenue Northeast/Northeast First Street and Northeast 12th Street, the city announced shortly after the start of the curfew.
Protesters marched throughout downtown Bellevue on Sunday as part of a demonstration against police brutality. Videos posted on social media and sent to The Seattle Times showed hundreds of people kneeling in the street and chanting “Black lives matter” and “say his name,” referring to Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
But shortly after the protest began, other groups joined, Mylett said, with different intentions.
“They became a force, a force of destruction,” Mylett said at a news conference Sunday evening. “They were not there to protest the death of George Floyd, the tragedy of George Floyd. They were there to destroy.”
Several people broke into Bellevue Square and stole items from the mall’s stores, according to the police department. Neighboring businesses had windows smashed. Outside a New Balance store, empty red shoeboxes were strewn on the ground.
The Police Department called more than 200 law enforcement officials, including all its officers, along with police from the Kirkland and Redmond and Washington State Patrol troopers.
A 19-year-old college student who only gave her last name, Delacruz, came to the Bellevue protest from her home in Des Moines because she couldn’t make the Seattle protest, and wanted emboldened others to go to future protests.
At Bellevue Way Northeast and Northeast Fourth Street, she and a friend engaged in a peaceful protest. But when she went to Bellevue Square, she saw people looting businesses.
“We had been walking back and forth, and the anxiety and vulnerability would just rise [at Bellevue Square],” Delacruz said. “As you can see there are two different types of people: the people who came to protest and the people who came to [loot].”
Hannah Kurowski said she joined the protest after seeing it from her window overlooking Northeast Eighth Street in Bellevue and said she felt compelled to be one of the white protestors between police and people of color.
She acknowledged there were looters among the 200 or so people at the protest, but also said that she saw young people pleading with “militarized” and “intimidating” police for dialogue before any property was destroyed.
“How do people think we got Saturdays and Sundays off? How was child labor ended? Riots,” she said. “Bellevue is a place where there is a lot of wealth so it’s important to demonstrate here and show up in all different parts of the community.”
“Whites in this country and police have clearly demonstrated their priorities when they feign outrage over the riots but refuse to speak out when a Black person is murdered by a cop,” she said.
Bellevue announced the curfew just minutes after it officially went into effect, which Robinson said was necessary to make sure all safety orders were in effect. The Bellevue Transit Center and Interstate 405 ramps to downtown Bellevue were closed after the curfew announcement.
Mylett stressed that Bellevue’s curfew would be enforced, though he didn’t specify the department’s tactics or how officers planned to differentiate between people who had a legitimate reason to be downtown versus others. In Seattle, city officials have said that its curfew would only be enforced “for violations that result in public health and safety threats including fires, extensive property damage and violence.”
“We are going to make everyone aware of it, if they don’t leave, they are going to jail,” Mylett said. “If people do not leave and heed the mayor’s rule, they will go to jail.”
The Police Department has had several instances of police shootings. In 2014, three Bellevue police officers fatally shot a man after he attempted to run down the officers with his car. In 2001, a Bellevue officer shot and killed a Guatemalan immigrant, prompting allegations of racism and lack of adequate training or discipline. The city settled with the man’s family in 2005 for $75,000.
Bellevue is the fifth-largest city in Washington, and half the city’s primarily upper-income residents are people of color, though just 3% are Black. About 7% of its residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. census. Affordability and growth have been key issues in the city, which is preparing for an influx of tech workers in the next few years, including several thousand Amazon employees that will be in existing or planned offices by 2024.
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.