As downtown Seattle prepares to kick off the holiday season Friday with its annual Christmas tree-lighting, there is major behind-the-scenes planning on how to handle a Black Lives Matter protest directed at the gathering.
As Seattle prepares to kick off the holiday season with Friday’s annual Christmas tree-lighting in Westlake Park, police are preparing for a planned Black Lives Matter protest that will coincide with the gathering.
Capt. Chris Fowler said that department officials have had frequent meetings with the Downtown Seattle Association and Seafair, which is hosting the Westlake Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration.
Fowler attributed the “robust” planning and an increased number of officers on the streets Friday to last year’s Black Friday protest over the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo. Five people were arrested and the protest led to the early shutdown of Westlake Center, the closure of transit stations and a major disruption of the tree-lighting event.
On Tuesday, demonstrators took to the streets peacefully in Chicago after authorities released a video of a police officer shooting a black teenager a year ago. The officer was charged with murder hours before the video was released. Demonstrations there are expected to continue on Black Friday.
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In Minneapolis, protesters have staged ongoing demonstrations since a police officer fatally shot a 24-year-old man on Nov. 15.
A woman involved in Black Lives Matter protests explained to The Stranger newspaper the reasons for demonstrating downtown on Friday, traditionally a big holiday-shopping day.
“I think we’ve seen that historically, the only way to get society as a whole to acknowledge that we need to change something, or change unjust systems, is to disrupt commerce and make economic hardship for those in power,” Nikkita Oliver, an activist and law-school graduate, told The Stranger.
“Money talks … Do I think disruption of Black Friday will get black and brown and poor people everything they need? No. But I do think that nationally it will keep [Black Lives Matter] in the eyes of those in power …” she said. “It’s just one strategy in a huge array of ways that people can be challenging police brutality and the other ways that black lives are devalued in the system.”
Mohawk Kuzma, an organizer of Friday’s protest, was a little more blunt at a news conference Tuesday called by civil-rights advocates to urge police to refrain from using violence on protesters and allow demonstrators to voice their views.
“Racism and injustice don’t end on Black Friday,” he said. “If you’re shopping on Black Friday, you’re selling your soul.”
More protests are expected around the country on Black Friday.
Fowler said Friday’s protest could potentially be as disruptive as the city’s annual May Day demonstrations, which have resulted in arrests, property damage and hurting businesses downtown.
“We want this to be a pleasant experience for people coming downtown,” Fowler said.
The civil-rights advocates who spoke Tuesday said police, during recent protests, have harassed protesters and barred them from exercising their First Amendment rights.
“We are calling on the Seattle Police Department to respect the rule of law,” said Neil Fox, of the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Seattle’s Garfield High School who was pepper-sprayed by a Seattle police officer during a protest earlier this year, was among those who decried police tactics during street demonstrations. Sandra Delafuente, the officer who pepper-sprayed Hagopian during a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was given a verbal reprimand after an internal investigation determined the use of spray was not necessary and that Hagopian posed no threat.
“I am definitive proof this Police Department disrespects the citizens of this city, Hagopian said.
Some of the speakers said that Black Friday shoppers and those celebrating the holiday season should have their comfort disrupted to understand there are others who are suffering injustice at the hands of police.
Fowler said protesters have a right to share their views, but not by resorting to violence, trespassing or serious property damage, or by infringing on the rights of others.
Fowler said Seafair has an “exclusive use permit” from the city of Seattle that allows the organization to control who has access to the area in and around the stage.
“I think we have shown time and time again if they protest peacefully they can go wherever you want. Everyone has a right to enjoy the day,” Fowler said.
Police expect between 300 and 500 protesters will descend on the downtown shopping district between 1 p.m. and the tree-lighting festivities, which begin at 4:45 p.m.
James Sido, public-relations manager for the Downtown Seattle Association, said they’re anticipating up to 15,000 shoppers and holiday revelers downtown on Friday.
“We’re really expecting a community event for all,” Sido said.