A protest over the recent Ferguson grand-jury decision forced the early closure of a downtown Seattle mall, shut down transit stations and disrupted a tree-lighting ceremony on the busiest shopping day of the year.
Five people were arrested during the demonstration, according to the Seattle Police Department. The “Black Lives Matter” demonstration started early Friday afternoon as hundreds of participants walked through downtown and on Capitol Hill.
The demonstration was one of many held nationally targeting Black Friday shopping as a way to protest the decision Monday by a grand jury to not indict a white police officer who last summer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo.
Shortly after a group of 150 to 200 demonstrators conducted a “die-in” by lying on the floors inside Westlake Center, dozens of disappointed shoppers were turned away by helmeted officers guarding the doors. Westlake Center then closed around 6 p.m., three hours before its scheduled closing time.
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Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said the department had increased staffing Friday to deal with the protest and the crowds of people shopping downtown. “We couldn’t predict that it would take a violent turn, but we did our best to mitigate those circumstances and made arrests when necessary,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb said the police weren’t involved in the decision to close Westlake Center early.
A Downtown Seattle Association spokesman called the Westlake Center closure “very unfortunate.”
“It’s a big night for a lot of people and there was a very small faction of people who were trying to spoil the night for everyone,” spokesman James Sido said.
The holiday carousel across the street never stopped operating, and by 6:30 p.m. protesters were replaced by people taking photos of themselves with the lighted Christmas tree in the background. But for Westlake Center visitors like Patti Woodruff, the night was ruined.
She’d traveled from Palm Springs, Calif., hoping to take in some of Seattle’s holiday traditions with her grandchildren.
“They ruined the event and the Christmas spirit here — it didn’t do any good,” said Woodruff, 67.
Her teenage granddaughters said they sympathized with Brown’s family, but didn’t think the demonstrators’ actions brought any positive momentum for change.
“They’re just making everyone mad,” said Julia Cameron, 14. “It’s an important cause, but there are so many other better ways to get people’s attention.”
A group of demonstrating students from Tahoma High School in Covington thought otherwise. One of them, Ross Pearson, 17, held a sign reading “No business as usual.”
His friend Jacub Peterson, 16, agreed that everyone needs to be stopped in their tracks to think about what she sees as the overmilitarization of police departments.
“This is unacceptable in 2014, and we’ve let this kind of thing pass by too many times before to not do something,” said Peterson. “If it means stopping people from shopping to realize how serious this is, then so be it.”
Earlier, protesters had marched from downtown and ended up at 10th Avenue and East Pike Street on Capitol Hill, where they chanted as police on bikes and in patrol cars watched. Police used flash bangs and pepper spray after a confrontation at Pine Street and Boren Avenue. Officers reported that protesters used pepper spray as well.
Of the five people arrested, police said two men and a woman, ages 22, 24 and 30 respectively, allegedly assaulted officers. They said a 16-year-old pushed an officer and was arrested for obstruction. Police also arrested a 27-year-old man they say kicked at an officer’s bicycle. The adults were booked into King County Jail; the youth was released to a parent.
Nordstrom closed some of its entrances for about 10 minutes as protesters moved past, and the skybridge to Pacific Place was locked for about a half-hour, said spokeswoman Tara Darrow.
The Westlake and Convention Place transit stations were temporarily shut down Friday evening. The downtown tunnel was closed for about an hour.
After marching back downtown, about 200 protesters parked themselves in front of Westlake Center’s annual tree lighting, using megaphones to chant “Michael Brown” and take turns exhorting each other with slogans such as, “We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
After the disrupted ceremony, Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole met with the children whose caroling performance had been interrupted.
“While I understand the hurt and frustration that our city has experienced in the past days, this is a city that respects the rule of law,” Murray said. “I support the First Amendment rights of protesters, but violence against property or police officers will not be tolerated in our city.”
Whitcomb said most people downtown still managed to complete their shopping and enjoy the tree-lighting ceremony.
“I think residents should feel completely safe,” Whitcomb said.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org