A day after multiple businesses were vandalized during protests on Capitol Hill, and ahead of demonstrations expected this weekend, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday she had received assurances from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that federal agents would not at this time be sent into Seattle to crack down on demonstrators on the city’s streets like they have been in Portland.
But an unspecified number of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents headed to the Seattle area Thursday to beef up security at federal government buildings in the city, a spokesman for the Federal Protective Service (FPS) said. Both CBP and FPS are agencies within DHS.
He said the CBP agents would be ready to reinforce personnel based in Seattle. He didn’t disclose where exactly the agents would be stationed.
“Federal Protective Service routinely requests mutual assistance from other law enforcement agencies when there are threats to federal properties,” the FPS spokesman said in a statement. “The CBP team will be on standby in the area, should they be required. FPS requests this kind of assistance multiple times a year at our over 9,000 facilities across the country.”
A federal government plane landed at Boeing Field on Thursday evening and “more than a dozen personnel drove off to an unknown destination,” King County Executive Dow Constantine tweeted just before 9 p.m.
“Let me be clear: this community rejects Trump’s unconstitutional use of federal force. It is a transparent attempt to intimidate. But we will not be intimidated,” Constantine tweeted. “Know your rights. Stay vigilant, stay safe, and stay away from federal agents.”
Durkan said she had spoken on the phone to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
“He told me directly that DHS has no plans — and sees no need — to send federal forces to Seattle. He committed to notifying Chief Best and myself should that change,” the mayor said in a statement, referring to police Chief Carmen Best.
“I made clear to Acting Secretary Wolf that deployments in Seattle — like we have seen in Portland — would undermine public safety and break community trust,” Durkan added.
“DHS now says they have a limited number of agents in the area on standby to protect federal buildings. Should federal forces intervene like they have in Portland, we are prepared to pursue every legal recourse. A federal judge in Portland has entered an order limiting the actions of federal forces there. We are prepared to seek the same relief if necessary.”
Gov. Jay Inslee, at a news conference Thursday about the state’s response to COVID-19, said his staff had called DHS and were advised there “are not, repeat not, security forces deployed to the Seattle region.”
“These decisions need to be made by local officials,” Inslee said. “And we don’t want to see some of the activity that happened in Portland happen here. Where there were great concerns raised about forces that were not identified picking up citizens without really following the necessary protocols.”
Inslee later criticized the federal government for “conflicting messages.” Though his staff was repeatedly told “there was no surge of additional personnel to Seattle, it appears they are doing just that,” he said in a statement.
“I am concerned that anything could aggravate the situation, and in their rush they are not listening” to Durkan and Best, he added.
Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, issued a statement early Friday, saying the group opposed deployment of federal agents to Seattle and would take legal action, if necessary,
“This is a fight to save our democracy and any federal response in Seattle similar to what we have seen in Portland would be unacceptable,” Storms’ statement said. “We are prepared to return to court to address unconstitutional actions by federal agents, just as we did against the City of Seattle.”
The questions about federal agents swirled after two days of property destruction in Seattle on July 19 and Wednesday. Police appeared to largely hang back from directly confronting the perpetrators and made few arrests.
On July 19, the police said officers were injured when they were pelted with fireworks, rocks and bottles during a demonstration outside the West Precinct. People in a crowd also vandalized buildings downtown and on Capitol Hill, including the Police Department’s headquarters and Seattle’s municipal court. Two people were arrested, one on investigation of assault and one for allegedly stealing a police bicycle.
“Police stepped out of the building to arrest a protester blocking a security camera with an umbrella. The crowd quickly rallied against them, refusing to be bullied by the police, and showing themselves ready to protect each other with force,” says an “after-action report” about the confrontation outside the West Precinct, posted on the Puget Sound Anarchists website.
“SPD was not ready for the crowd to push back against their brutality, nor for the crowd’s refusal to bend under police intimidation tactics used against them in other marches.”
Then on Wednesday, a group of about 150 people gathered at Cal Anderson Park and roved through the neighborhood, shattering windows, setting fires and looting businesses, police said.
Police said they made no arrests. The Police Department said it was “trying to find the safest ways to enforce the law without making the situation worse.”
“Life safety is our primary focus,” the department said in a statement.
“When people damage property and the SPD moves in, there’s a likelihood that someone — whether an officer or someone else — could be injured. The SPD is trying to avoid that. However, this doesn’t mean that suspects in crimes won’t be arrested at a later date… If lives are at risk, you can expect a swift response by the Seattle Police Department.”
The Youth Liberation Front Seattle Division is the local arm of the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, which has emerged in Portland as a persistent militant voice, using social media to promote rallies, and offering tactical advice and commentary on gatherings that often have ended in confrontations with the police and arrests.
“Bodies needed at cal anderson! The march is apparently starting soon!” the Seattle group’s Twitter account posted around 10 p.m. Wednesday. The group is planning a Saturday protest “in solidarity with our comrades” in Portland.
After news broke that federal agents were en route to Seattle, a post said, “They’re most likely gonna gas the hell out of us this weekend so get ready for some (expletive).”
In a Thursday letter sent to the City Council, Best warned about “the foreseeable impact” of a council ban on police using less-lethal tools like flash-bang devices, tear gas and pepper spray against protest crowds that goes into effect Sunday.
She said the ordinance would prevent officers from being able to safely make arrests in large crowds, leaving them only with riot batons and riot shields for protection.
“This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days,” the chief wrote. “There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.”
It “would be reckless to have [officers] confront this level of violence” under the restrictions, Best said.
A Capitol Hill business owner, who has a business that neighbors others that were vandalized Wednesday, said that while recent protests appear to have mostly targeted larger corporations that are seen as complicit in systemic racism, smaller businesses are also getting caught in the crossfire.
The business owner, who asked not to be named due to concerns about retaliation, said that “our neighborhood is being sacrificed” amid a “political spitting match” among local officials.
“I want protestors’ voices to be heard but I don’t understand how setting fires, smashing windows and looting is going to help that,” the owner added. “The black protestors that I marched side by side with in May and June had no interest in harming businesses or buildings.”
Council President M. Lorena González wrote on Twitter this week: “Potentially lethal weapons like blast balls and tear gas should have no place in our streets and should NEVER be used against peaceful protesters.”
Asked about Wednesday night’s events Thursday, she said, “The tactic of destruction and violence of our neighborhoods risks setting back our collective efforts to radically transform our public safety models. I continue to implore the people of Seattle to demand change but to do so peacefully.”
“We have had weeks of largely peaceful protest in Seattle. Peaceful demonstrations push governments and elected officials to be better, but acts of violence, threats, and destruction are unacceptable,” Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said in a statement earlier Thursday.
“What occurred in Seattle on Sunday and Wednesday – officers hurt, small businesses damaged, fires started – cannot continue. As a community, we should collectively denounce this type of violence from a few individuals who are intent on destruction.”