Crowds of angry and heartbroken demonstrators gathered in rainy downtown Seattle and on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening after a grand jury decided earlier in the day not to charge Kentucky police officers for shooting and killing Breonna Taylor.
The evening began with two 7 p.m. rallies — one that began at Westlake Park downtown and ended with a vigil for Taylor outside the U.S. Courthouse, and another at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill that led to smashed windows, 13 arrests and a referral to the Office of Police Accountability over one officer’s actions.
As the night progressed and crowds reconvened outside the Police Department’s East Precinct, police declared an unlawful assembly, using pepper spray and other less lethal weapons to clear protesters out of the area.
“Before we head out and march today … we are here in solidarity for Louisville, Kentucky,” one organizer said to the Westlake crowd around 7:30 p.m., according to several livestreams. “That is the only reason we are here today.”
In support of Kentucky protesters, Westlake organizers read aloud six demands from Louisville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, which are directed at their city officials. They include: fire and revoke the pensions of officers who killed Taylor; divest from Louisville Metro Police Department and invest in community building; impeach Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher, who protesters are urging to resign; end use of force by local police; develop a civilian police accountability council independent of the mayor’s office; and establish policies to ensure transparent investigation processes.
At Cal Anderson Park, protester Travonna Thompson-Wiley said the grand jury’s decision offered “no justice at all.” The demonstration was a message that people across the country are in solidarity, she said.
“The new generation, millennials, Gen Z are not going to give in to lip service,” she said. “They want change.”
Thompson-Wiley said her family, once able to live in the Central District, has been displaced by gentrification. Three generations ago, they moved to Seattle “to flee white supremacy and Jim Crow, but they encountered a new type of white supremacy,” she said.
“We need a total abolition of the system,” she said.
Around 8:30 p.m., some people who had gathered at Cal Anderson started smashing parking meters and the windows of a Starbucks on First Hill. A second Starbucks was hit shortly after, and Seattle police issued a dispersal order before 9 p.m.
By 9:15 p.m., police had arrested several people on First Hill.
Meanwhile, in downtown Seattle, the group that started at Westlake made their way to the U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Avenue and placed candles and flowers as part of a vigil for Taylor.
“You need to be educating your families, your friends, your neighbors and yourself,” one protester at the vigil shouted at the crowd. “Because if you grew up here, or in any white country, you do not have proper education. … Do not wait until there’s another dead Black body.”
Around 10:30 p.m., people reassembled outside the Police Department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill, chanting and playing music before someone threw a firework at the precinct.
“Stop throwing pyrotechnics at the precinct,” an officer said over a loudspeaker.
Shortly after, a group of officers — some on bikes — came into the area, pepper spraying the crowd and sending people running, and some in the crowd threw a traffic cone and other objects at police, before the scene settled into a brief standoff at 11th Avenue and Pine Street.
According to a series of tweets from the Police Department about 11 p.m., the officers deployed pepper spray after protesters “cut security cameras” at the precinct and started throwing glass bottles.
Officers briefly retreated from the intersection, but returned to issue another dispersal order around 11:40 p.m. when a fire broke out outside Sunset Electric Apartments on Pine Street. Officers used blast balls, pepper spray and impact munitions. They continued making arrests past midnight while pushing the crowds away from the precinct and into Capitol Hill side streets.
Police declared an unlawful assembly around 12:30 a.m. and again ordered people to leave the area, adding on Twitter that “multiple fires have been set, explosives have been thrown at officers, and property damage in the surrounding area.” The majority of remaining protesters ended up circling back to Cal Anderson around 1 a.m., and dispersed shortly after, according to multiple livestreams.
Police said they arrested 13 people on investigation of property destruction, resisting arrest, failure to disperse and assault on an officer. The department also posted photos of someone in the crowd appearing to hit an officer in the head with a baseball bat. A separate video online showed an officer walking his bike over the head of a person lying in the street. SPD said that incident would be referred to the Office of Police Accountability. Police said “multiple officers” were injured. Some protesters shared photos online of their injuries caused by police crowd-control weapons.
Police in Louisville shot Taylor, an emergency medical worker, in her apartment in March after they entered on a no-knock warrant. A Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday did not bring charges against officers for killing Taylor, instead bringing three counts of wanton endangerment against one fired officer for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes.
State Attorney General Daniel Cameron said officers announced themselves before entering and acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them, Associated Press reported. Taylor’s boyfriend has disputed whether the officers clearly announced that they were police and said he and Taylor did not know who was at the door and that he fired in self-defense. A later search of the apartment found no drugs.
In reaction to the decision, protesters gathered across the country Wednesday as they have for more than 100 days since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in late May.
In Seattle, protesters have called for cuts to the Seattle Police Department’s budget, increased funding for Black-led organizations, for charges against protesters to be dropped, for Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign and for the county to close the juvenile detention center.
Along with the names of Taylor and Floyd, protesters have invoked the names of those killed by Seattle police, saying efforts at police reform have failed.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Travonna Thompson-Wiley’s name.