Thelma Washington has lived in an apartment just off Rainier Avenue South for 20 years. In those two decades, she has never seen a demonstration of Sunday’s size — which covered the entirety of Othello Park — come through her South Seattle neighborhood.
On the 10th day of major protests in Seattle against police brutality and racial injustice, the 86-year-old, sipping iced soda in a cup, watched from the entrance of Parkway Apartments as the street swelled with protesters for hours on Sunday afternoon.
“They’ve had enough of being misused and mistreated,” said Washington, who is Black.
She, like many others who watched or participated in Sunday’s “We Want to Live” demonstration, which took protesters from Othello Park to a Safeway slightly more than a mile south, noted the demographics of the crowd, reflective of the area’s designation as one of the most racially diverse ZIP codes in the country. The signs spoke for themselves: Asians for Black lives. Arabs for Black lives. Las vidas negras importan. Police Brutality Is Not Kosher.
For some who showed up Sunday, it was among the first times they’d publicly wielded those messages. The march brought them together with people who had directly experienced police brutality, or had a loved one killed by law enforcement.
The most recent series of high-profile Black deaths had brought them outside, and forced them to engage with anti-Blackness in their communities and families like they hadn’t before, they said.
“We tend to stay inside and keep to ourselves,” said Norlaila T., a mother at the protest who declined to provide her last name. “But I felt it was important that my kids see this,” said Norlaila, who is Asian.
The speakers who kicked off the “We Want to Live” march, organized by Community Passageways, a local nonprofit whose goal is to end youth incarceration, noticed this dynamic. They had this message: Keep going. Put some skin in the game.
The organizers and those in the crowd called for defunding the police, reparations for slavery and justice for Black people killed by police and civilians.
“No longer will we ask someone to give us justice. No longer will we ask someone to give us equality. We’re going to take what we want,” said Dominique Davis, the founder and CEO of Community Passageways. “We have the numbers now. We have every race, creed and ethnicity out here today.”
Together, he said, the crowd stood for one cause: to break the institutional racism that has killed Black people for hundreds of years.
Louis V., 31, came out alone to Sunday’s march, wearing handmade wings crafted out of a pool noodle and white plastic wrap with the words Liberty and Justice written on them and a T-shirt and bandanna with the National Flag of the Philippines.
He said he is protesting the selective anti-Black racism he has seen within his Filipino American community, part of which, he said, stems from internalized colonial oppression.
As the crowd pushed through, onlookers cheered them on and played music. A group of women wearing hijabs clanked wooden spoons against pots and pans outside their apartment complex.
The march culminated in a Safeway parking lot for a peaceful rally to hear speakers, and to remember loved ones who were killed by police. On the periphery of the crowd sat three Black men — one of whom raised a red, black and green Pan-African flag — atop horses like sentinels.
Under a small white tent, speakers took turns discussing the need for police reform and Black liberation. Each speech was punctuated by the toots of a reggae air horn.
“Excuse me if Black folks are tired, but we’ve lost track of the actual count of Black bodies that have been lost to white supremacy,” said one speaker. As he exited the platform, protesters holding signs such as “Would you switch places with my black son,” bounced to a song by rapper Kendrick Lamar.
The coronavirus pandemic and months of isolation had spurred widespread outrage, believed teacher and South Seattle resident Jacqueline Thompson. But she seeks greater systemic change, she said, and hopes police will be held accountable for killing Black civilians. “How would the police officers feel if the tables were turned?” asked Thompson.
She called the police’s response to protests in Seattle over the past week wrong, and was frustrated by the use of “scare tactics” such as the deployment of tear gas on large crowds.
“We need legislatures and politicians to say ‘this is enough, and we believe you’,” said Thompson. Lasting change would require petitioning politicians, and continued protests, she said.
Widespread acknowledgment of Black oppression and mistreatment is needed before reaching greater equality, said Rainier Beach resident Tara Kinzy. As a mother of Black sons, she was concerned about her family’s safety.
While she believes that law enforcement is needed to maintain order, “the problem with the police is the abuse of power,” said Kinzy. Police reform is needed, she added, and criminal charges need to be brought against officers who unlawfully kill people.
“We should not have to protest, we should not have to march, or to ask for a civil right,” Kinzy said. “I pray that lives are changed, that lives are saved.” It was a personal matter for Kinzy, as her cousin’s husband, Edward Anderson, was killed by a police officer in 1996, she said.
University of San Francisco communications student Khalil Shabazz was home on summer break and joined the rally to document history with his camera. His family member Malik Williams, who used a wheelchair, was killed in a shootout with Federal Way police last year. Shabazz said he longed for a future where “Black people wouldn’t be shot and deprived of their success.”
In the crowd, a protester held a sign with Williams’s picture that read, “Malik Williams live long.”