The death of George Floyd and demands for changed attitudes toward race and changed approaches toward policing were marked in the Seattle area Saturday at iconic spots ranging from the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, and by thousands of demonstrators — in the morning by health care workers at Harborview Medical Center and at night on the lush green of Magnuson Park, with an event honoring the life of a mother fatally shot by police in her home three years ago.
But as night fell, the calls for change again zeroed in on the Seattle Police Department and its handling of the week’s protests. After officers used blast balls and pepper spray at about 7:30 p.m. to disperse a crowd on Capitol Hill — a day after an announced 30-day ban on tear gas — several elected officials showed up to issue their own kind of protest: De-escalate now, they urged.
The department and city leadership took heat in the crowd and on social media from politicians from the City Council, King County Council and the Legislature, and at 12:29 a.m. Sunday, the department reported that several officers had been hurt in the incident, with two taken to Harborview Medical Center with unspecified injuries.
According to the police department, a scene commander warned protesters at 11th Avenue and East Pine Street to stop pushing barriers, and then some people “began throwing bottles, rocks and incendiary devices” at officers. A photo provided by the police department of the devices thrown showed what appeared to be a candle.
Across town at about the same time, Kevin Norris, 29, was sitting on the ground at Magnuson Park. The human-resource manager and Bremerton resident remembered reeling from the 2017 death of Charleena Lyles in Seattle. He hadn’t joined other rallies commemorating the mother’s death, but felt spurred to join Saturday night’s gathering after a week of global protests over Floyd’s death.
“We have incidents here in our own state that go unnoticed,” said Norris. “This was one story that had a five-minute news flash.”
As a Black man, Norris feels it’s time for change. He wanted to highlight the killing of Lyles, a 30-year-old Black woman, because, he said, Black women also are targets of police brutality and their “names often get lost” in the news cycle.
At the time of Lyles’ death, police said she had one or two knives when the officers, who were white, arrived. They shot her seven times. The shooting drew community outrage and questions about why officers did not use less-than-lethal means to respond and whether they had appropriate crisis-intervention training.
At the park, some wore black and carried signs that read “Defund SPD,” and “No more silence, we need justice.” Some marched toward University Village, where entrances were blocked. On Monday, some protesters smashed supermarket windows there and on Saturday, many stores were boarded up.
Saturday’s events drew regular activists and first-time protesters who were determined that the killing of Floyd, whose last moments were with his neck under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, now propel the nation in a new direction.
In a video broadcast, Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County called for a statewide general strike and silent march on Friday.
“We’re calling on everyone in Washington state who is able to be there. If you can’t march in Seattle, organize one in your community,” board member Ebony Miranda said in a video news conference, asking people to participate despite the COVID-19 crisis.
“Anti-blackness is a greater threat to our survival, and racism in itself is its own pandemic. It’s killing us. We’re fighting to survive and thrive.”
The group said it had met Saturday with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to discuss police-reform demands, including its call for cutting the police budget by $100 million.
The chaos and violence on Capitol Hill came after thousands had made their way to the area near the East Precinct. Several groups offered free food from Seattle restaurants, as well as medical items and art supplies to make signs. But the tensions clearly built as police and protesters had little space separating them.
Hours earlier, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant called on Durkan to resign, describing her as responsible for “violence and brutality” in the city’s response to the week’s protests.
On Saturday night, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda — among several elected officials who made their way to the scene — on Twitter told Durkan, Police Chief Carmen Best and the police department to “STOP There is no need to use these dangerous tactics. This is excessive use of force and absolutely unnecessary.”
The day kicked off differently.
Thousands of doctors, nurses and other health care workers assembled at Harborview to protest police violence against people of color, as well as systemic racism, and its damaging effects on public health.
The medical workers’ march, like others Saturday, ended at the East Precinct.
“As soon as we step into medical school, we immediately start getting the education that because you’re Black, you’re more predisposed to everything — and we don’t stop to question why that is,” Dr. Estell J. Williams, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Washington, told the crowd, many wearing their scrubs or white physician’s coats. “We get so fixated on disease, we forget about health.”
“Racism is the biggest public health crisis of our time,” said Dr. Nathan Colon, a urological surgeon at the University of Washington, and a first-time protester. Williams, he said, was a close mentor, which inspired him to attend.
To his own surprise, Jamal Layne found himself later that day in a different march, which had begun beneath the Space Needle, progressed through Belltown to Pike Place Market, then up Capitol Hill to the police precinct. “I mainly try to keep politics out of my life,” he said, noting he was the only Black member of his team at a company that contracts with Amazon. “I don’t want to be seen as the guy playing the race card.”
He’d been out walking with a friend when he saw the march, and they decided to join. “I see all these people of other colors supporting me,” Layne said, gesturing around the crowd. “I haven’t been on the front lines like I should.”
That march paused frequently for people to kneel in the streets — at one point, protesters lay down on First Avenue with their hands behind their backs, as if in handcuffs, and chanted “I can’t breathe” for more than eight minutes, the length of time the white Minneapolis police officer was seen to have his knee on Floyd’s neck, as Floyd called out that he couldn’t breathe.
Other tech workers joined the protests as well. Chris Lwanga, who works for Microsoft, said he showed up for the protest beginning at Seattle Center after seeing it mentioned on social media.
“I wanted to march, to show my disgust for all the events that have transpired over the last few months,” he said. “The American dream is not a reality for many in this country — I’d say the vast majority,” he said. “Especially in regards to gender.”
Police escorted the march from the Space Needle without incident, and the law-enforcement presence at the much larger gathering of medical workers was barely discernible.
“That’s normal when a gathering is put together by professional people, people who have clout, positions of power,” said Hazzaunah Underwood, a nurse who attended the morning event with her four children. “Up on Capitol Hill, there have been hundreds of cops, the National Guard, and not nearly as many protesters as there are here.”
Her son, who is 7 years old, sat in a wagon alongside a PA that Underwood had brought, and had “future police officer” written on a piece of tape across his chest. He wore a face mask that read: “I can’t breathe.”