The Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Seattle echoed similar events in cities spanning the country on the day shoppers celebrate with bargains.
A massive crowd participated in a peaceful protest during the third annual Black Lives Matter demonstration on Friday, meandering through downtown and South Lake Union before dispersing from Westlake Avenue and Mercer Street.
Seattle police officers, riding bicycles and wearing body armor, kept pace with protesters while others stood watch outside downtown stores. No arrests had been made by the time the protest ended around 5 p.m., and police reported no issues at the tree-lighting ceremony downtown, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.
Demonstrators briefly pushed their way into Zara, a clothing store at Westlake Center, and once inside chanted, “Black Lives Matter, not Black Friday.” Though security guards at first attempted to close the doors, they seemingly gave up and the protesters walked in, then back out, then sat in the middle of Pine Street and Fifth Avenue.
The Seattle protest echoed similar events around the country on the day shoppers celebrate with bargains. Demonstrators seemed galvanized this year by Donald Trump’s election.
One protester, Adriane Ferguson, who is biracial and a Seattle native, said of encountering racism in this city, “We’re very liberal, but it’s here. Now, it’s more hidden, but it’s also in your face.” She continued: “It’s not cool for people who are racist to show it. They mask it, but it’s alive and well. I have a feeling it’s going to get worse, and I hate to say it.”
In Chicago, a crowd of hundreds with similar messages attempted to block access to stores in the city’s “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. An online flier for that demonstration read, “The struggle to stop Trump and the struggle against police crimes are both struggles against racism.”
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On the campaign trail, the president-elect offered few suggestions that would change policing or improve relations between communities of color and law enforcement. He also criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for what he described as its incitement of violence against police in some cases.
“And it’s a very divisive term because all lives matter,” Trump said before his election. “It’s a very, very divisive term.”
More recently, critics say his selections for leadership posts, such as Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, could derail the Obama administration’s civil-rights efforts, including investigations of police departments for unconstitutional practices.
In 2014, Black Friday protests nationwide were sparked by a grand-jury decision not to indict the Ferguson, Mo., officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old. Seattle demonstrators disrupted the tree-lighting ceremony, forcing the early closure of several transit stations and Westlake Center.
And last year, protests followed the release of a dashcam video showing the night a white police officer in Chicago shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, and kept shooting. Four protesters were arrested in Seattle, and a police officer was injured.
Scores of people have taken to city streets since to protest recent high-profile shootings, such as the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterlingin July. Some Seattle schools also recently held “Black Lives Matter at School” rallies to raise awareness.
The spotlight on police conduct comes as Seattle police work toward meeting terms of a 2012 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force and biased policing.
While there were still chants denouncing racist policing, Seattle protesters this year used the event to express solidarity with refugees and protesters working to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — and to vent anger at Trump’s election.
“It’s not just Black Lives Matter. The dynamic has changed significantly this year,” said Maria Arceo Gardner, who is transgender and mixed race. “There have been lots of things happening throughout the year, lots of things that affect us as black people, transgender people, people in poverty, homeless folks.”
Issues surrounding white privilege were also openly discussed, with one black protester with a bullhorn telling the racially diverse crowd: “We have never been equal. We’ve never been allowed to be equal … White people, you have the power, you have the privilege, so use it!”
The sentiment resonated with 29-year-old Kristina Grant.
“I came today because the cops are less likely to shoot into a crowd with white bodies in it, and I feel that’s a way I can use my privilege to someone else’s benefit,” said Grant, who lives in Fremont. “I’m here to be a listener, not a speaker.”
Maleka Taylor, who is visiting from Portland, ran out of a condo building on Westlake Avenue to videotape the protesters as they streamed by.
“I didn’t know” this was going on, she said. “I’m pleasantly surprised to see the protest. It makes me feel happy and secure.”
During the demonstration, signature gatherers were working the crowd in support of Initiative 873, which would change state law to make it easier to prosecute police officers who kill in the line of duty.
A Seattle Times investigation last year found Washington law makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against an officer, even if there’s a conclusion that an officer wrongfully killed someone.
It currently holds that an officer can’t be charged if he or she acted in good faith during an incident, and without malice.
This week, a state legislative task force approved a recommendation to remove the references to malice and good faith, as well as add a criminal-liability defense for officers who reasonably believed deadly force was necessary at the time, given the facts and circumstances.
The vote to change the law’s language is a boost for advocates seeking to address the police shootings, though the recommendation faces an uncertain future in the Washington Legislature.