A pair of protests are planned Saturday in Seattle to mourn George Floyd — a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to his neck as he pleaded for air — and demand more police accountability.
One of the protests will be led by Not This Time!, a nonprofit committed to reducing fatal police shootings and creating safer communities.
“We can’t have officers killing people — unarmed people — and not being charged and convicted,” said the group’s leader, Andre Taylor. “We need to see officers being held accountable.”
The protest is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Saturday at Westlake Center, 400 Pine St., with speakers, including community and youth leaders, pastors and politicians. The group will then walk to the U.S. District Court building at 700 Stewart St., where there will be another round of speakers, music and poetry, Taylor said.
The event, which is expected to last at least two hours, will honor Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and fatally shot by white men in Georgia in February; Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Kentucky police officers during a “no-knock” raid of her apartment in March; and Floyd, who died this week after a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee against the man’s neck. Video footage of the incident showed Floyd struggling to breathe and pleading with police.
“This is something we haven’t seen before,” Andre Taylor said. “[The police officer] did it in front of a camera that he knew would be circulated around the world … Now that has triggered something different in Black people and communities of color. We’re going to see results.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Not This Time! is asking that participants exercise social distancing and wear gloves and masks on Saturday.
Another protest, organized by a group called Justice For George Floyd, will be held at noon Saturday at the Seattle Police Department headquarters at 610 Fifth Ave., according to the group’s Facebook page.
Andre Taylor is the brother of Che Taylor, who was shot to death by Seattle police in 2016. Andre Taylor was one of the activists who pushed Washington lawmakers in 2018 to pass a bill aimed at making it easier to prosecute police officers over misuse of deadly force. On Thursday evening, he said national and local leaders need to continue that work.
“We’re also asking white Americans to gather amongst themselves with the same passion for justice as we have done here,” Taylor said. “Unless they speak and show they’re just as outraged by these killings, then the probability of things changing any time soon is very low … rally, organize. Let’s stand together.”
Floyd’s death Monday during an arrest by police was captured on widely seen citizen video. On the video, Floyd can be seen pleading as Officer Derek Chauvin presses his knee against his neck, pinning him to pavement as he begs for air. As minutes pass, Floyd slowly stops talking and moving.
The incident has sparked protests and has drawn wide condemnation by many in law enforcement and led to the firings of the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest. On Friday, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best called Floyd’s death a “tragic murder” in a statement posted on the department’s website. “The video is upsetting, disappointing, and infuriating,” Best wrote. “It does not show the policing we know.”
The disturbing events unfolding in Minneapolis, which have fixated the nation’s attention on police accountability, come at a time when the city of Seattle and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently asked a federal judge to find that the Seattle Police Department has successfully completed court-ordered police reforms that could lead to the lifting of a 2012 consent decree with the DOJ.
The Police Department has earned plaudits from U.S. District James Robart for its nationally recognized work addressing DOJ allegations that officers too often resorted to using excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.
But Robart has expressed concerns about what he views as serious weaknesses in the Police Department’s disciplinary and accountability system incorporated in the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the police union representing more than 1,250 officers and sergeants — an issue the city has suggested can be treated separately with “significant steps” it has undertaken but cannot fully explain until later while it deals with the coronavirus crisis.
Critics have raised fears that the city is using the pandemic to prematurely get out from under the consent decree. However, the Minneapolis developments that have starkly shifted the landscape almost certainly assure that Robart, who has a record of closely watching national trends, will require the city to provide a detailed blueprint of its accountability plans.
Mike Solan, the president of SPOG, on his Twitter feed, described the officer’s use of force as “shocking” to a police officer sworn to “an oath of service” that “binds us” with the community.
He stopped short of calling the conduct unjustified, in contrast to his quick justification of Seattle officers use of deadly force that he has made a hallmark since taking office this year and even as official investigations are being launched.
At a City Hall news conference Friday, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she understands the “grief, anger and despair” behind Saturday’s protests, which she hopes will remain peaceful.
“The degrading and brutal way in which Mr. Floyd was treated reflected the deep and systemic impacts of racism in our country,” she said.
“The officers that encountered George Floyd disregarded his humanity, which led to his death,” added Durkan, a former U.S. attorney. “I believe it is right that the officer was charged and will be prosecuted for killing Mr. Floyd,”
While the mayor and Police Chief Best have no reason to believe Seattle’s protests will not be peaceful, the Police Department has prepared for various scenarios, they said, with Best warning participants to refrain from violence and property destruction.
Extra medical responders will be sent with firefighters to emergency calls near or at protest locations Saturday, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said, asking residents to report blazes immediately and recommending that downtown buildings place locks on their dumpsters.
“I want people to come together. It’s right to come together,” Durkan said. “But let’s do it safely, let’s do it to honor the man who was killed, and let’s get through this together.”
The mayor said she didn’t yet know whether she would attend one or more of the events.
“I reached out to some organizers,” she said when asked about the possibility. “I feel it’s important that people have the ability to express their views” without politicians taking over.
In addition to the two protests, an informal anti-racism car and bike parade is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Lake City area of Seattle.
The event, organized by the Nathan Hale High School Racial Equity Team, is aimed at encouraging the community “to strive towards an antiracist mindset, to show our commitment to antiracist action and to demonstrate our solidarity with those who have been victims of racial injustice throughout our nation,” according to a news release.
The event will begin in the Nathan Hale staff parking lot at Northeast 110th Street and 30th Avenue Northeast at 9:30 a.m. before setting off at 10 a.m. The route will head north on Lake City Way, then east on Northeast 135th. The route will then head south on 35th Avenue Northeast to Northeast 130th and then south on Lake City Way to return to school. Organizers say they will adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Seattle Times staff reporters Steve Miletich and Daniel Beekman contributed to this story.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated a different address for the Justice For George Floyd protest, which was changed on Facebook Friday. The story now reflects the correct address at Seattle police headquarters.