“Policing will never be the same as it was before,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said on national television Sunday, describing the protest movement gripping the nation as “a pivotal moment in history” that will lead Seattle’s department “in a different direction.”
Best’s remarkable acknowledgment that police forces here and all over the U.S. face radical change, which she repeated Sunday afternoon at an event in the Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church in the Central District, came as peaceful protest and discussion around racial justice and police accountability continued across Seattle.
Early in the day, in the area of Capitol Hill around the Police Department East Precinct building that has been blocked off by protesters, Seattle Fire Department Chief Harold Scoggins led conciliatory talks involving representatives of protesters, local property owners and small business owners to discuss how to reopen the area to regular traffic and commerce.
In the Chinatown-International District in the afternoon, local artists from the Black and Asian communities painted murals to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, in the #4BLM Community Art Walk coordinated by the nonprofit Experience Education. With messages like “Asians for Black Lives,” they decorated the wooden boards that have been protecting closed businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger,” said 23-year-old Gwynneth Resulta. “It’s about building each other up when we need it most.”
And at Westlake Park in the evening, hundreds gathered for a march organized by Black Lives Matter Seattle demanding an end to racism and that police be held accountable for violence against Black people.
“I’m a Black mom raising two Black boys,” said a woman named Lisa, who had driven up from Renton for her first Seattle protest. “I don’t want my children to become Tamir Rice.”
The crowd marched to the Seattle police West Precinct on Virginia Street, circling the building and chanting “these racist cops have got to go.”
“I’m sick and tired of seeing my people killed,” said Al Hull, an Everett resident at the downtown march. “I’m from Mississippi. I come from racism. This is the first time in my life I’ve seen a movement like this, all races together. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Chief Best on center stage
On CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning, Best said she had “an epiphany” watching the 60,000-strong March of Silence protest in South Seattle on Friday afternoon.
“I saw many people carrying signs about defunding the police, ending police brutality and looking at resolving the qualified immunity issue,” Best said. “So I know, standing there watching and listening, that we’re going to change in policing. We have to.”
“We need to re-imagine and re-figure out how we’re going to move forward as a country and as an organization to make things better for everybody,” she added.
In the afternoon, Best received a standing ovation at the Goodwill Church when she joined a large group of Black religious and community leaders, who welcomed her as a hero.
Seattle police have faced harsh criticism during the protests for the use of tear gas, flash-bangs and other weapons against some protesters. Victoria Beach, chair of the African American Advisory Council for the Seattle Police Department, recalled that when she visited the vacated East Precinct with Best earlier this week, they were booed by demonstrators.
The Black leaders portrayed these slights against Best as slights against the Black community.
“We were booed by mainly white people trying to silence us. They cannot and will not keep us silent,” said Beach. “I love her. I am going to back her to the end.”
Andrè Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by Seattle police in 2016, called Best a friend, then added: “I don’t let folks just get away with messing with my friends and family.”
Best spoke briefly in response to the show of support, reiterating how when she watched Friday’s silent protest march she got the message “loud and clear.”
“I hear those demanding change,” she said.
And she said that though she commands many “wonderful officers working hard to make a difference … Those who aren’t, let’s find a way to move those out of the system.”
Talks continue over Capitol Hill protest zone
Earlier in the day, inside the area around 12th and Pine — known first as CHAZ, for Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, then redubbed CHOP, for Capitol Hill Organized Protest — Fire Chief Scoggins led talks to try to work out how the footprint of the area might be reduced and partially opened to normal traffic and commercial access while maintaining the protest.
Scoggins was accompanied by Mami Hara, general manager of Seattle Public Utilities, and Sam Zimbabwe, director of the city Department of Transportation.
Their discussion with a small group of demonstrators and locals affected by the protest was live-streamed by Converge Media.
Sitting on a long sofa alongside the protesters, real-estate developer Ron Amundson, who represented some property owners in the area, said some business owners want to open but are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation. He said eight residents had moved out that day from the building where the meeting took place.
“My hope is we can get back to normal,” Amundson said. “Not to ignore the [Black Lives Matter] issues. We know things have to change.”
Carmen O’Toole, a tech consultant and writer, said the road barriers are blocking deliveries to restaurants and garbage pickup.
“We need to make it so the community doesn’t die,” she said.
Zimbabwe handed out maps presenting a couple of options for shrinking and rearranging the footprint of the protest area with various barriers positioned to allow either pedestrian-only or vehicle access.
“This is a way to open up enough to preserve a protest area and to be able to discuss how to make that separation between street and protest area,” he said.
Protester Marcus Henderson, who has led a gardening project at Cal Anderson Park, raised concerns about “economic justice for white business owners” taking precedence over justice for Black people.
The protesters agreed to assess the options offered and continue talks with Scoggins.
“I look on it as a smarter and safer way to keep this going,” said one protester, who represented the CHOP security team. “If the perimeter was slightly smaller, it would be a lot easier to control.”
Seattle Times reporters Elise Takahama and David Gutman contributed to this report.