Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best said at a Wednesday news conference that police discovered explosives, smoke bombs and other weapons in a van stationed at the weekend protests.
Saturday’s demonstration, promoted by the Youth Liberation Front in support of protesters in Portland, erupted in violence. Best said over the weekend that officers used blast balls, pepper spray and 40mm sponge-tip rounds, while some in the crowd of protesters broke windows and started fires. At one point, she said, someone threw an explosive that blew an 8-inch hole through a wall of the Police Department’s East Precinct.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said Saturday evening that his team responded to multiple fires, including one that destroyed four trailers at a construction site.
On Wednesday, Best told reporters that officers saw a van following a group of protesters around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, before it stopped outside the East Precinct. At about the same time, she said, explosions started going off outside the precinct.
Best said a witness later told police they had seen baseball bats and explosives inside the same van earlier in the day.
Police later impounded the van and, after obtaining a search warrant, discovered firework pyrotechnics, smoke bombs, stun guns, bear and pepper spray, makeshift spike strips and gas masks, Best said.
No arrests have been made in connection to the explosives in the van, she said.
But she called what was found in the van “evidence that not everyone who comes to these protests are peaceful. Peaceful protesters do not show up in a van full of … explosives.”
Most of the crowd protested peacefully, Durkan later said, but the group associated with the explosives seemed “well-organized with this kind of destructive power.”
Seattle Police Sgt. James Lee, who works with the department’s arson/bomb squad, said his team also found remnants of a Molotov cocktail that exploded near King County’s juvenile detention facility, which is under construction.
“(The bear spray) is causing burns and itching and stinging to (officers’) face and exposed skin,” Lee said at the news conference. “This lasts much longer than the … type of pepper spray that police use and is much stronger. It is not safe for use on humans.”
Best said 59 officers were injured during the weekend protests.
“We have been in an unprecedented time in our city,” Durkan said at the news conference. “And one of the unprecedented things we’re experiencing is the historic civil rights reckoning, not just in Seattle but in this country. … Peaceful protests are good for America and good for our city. They push us to be better. They are a core tenet of who we are as a country.”
But, she added, “arson, destruction and violence have occurred and they undermine the push and need and voice for systemic change.”
Durkan ended the news conference by asking protesters to keep the peace in the city, noting that the violence is “sowing those divisions that the president wants” and “playing right into his hands.”
She also spoke of her commitment to making changes to law enforcement in the city.
“I believe wholeheartedly in reshaping the Police Department,” she said. “Chief Best and I have talked about how we can re-imagine policing and make sure that this city leads the way for the nation. … But again, we must stop engaging in hateful language and destruction. We have to move beyond that.”
The city’s Office of Police Accountability will continue to investigate the weekend complaints made against officers in hopes of holding police accountable, Durkan said.
“2020 has been a tough year,” she said. “And it’s going to continue to be tough. But the way we get through it, the way we come out the other end, is if we find a way to say, ‘We do not just come back, but we come back better.'”
Durkan is facing a recall movement led by people who have been protesting for racial justice and police accountability. On Wednesday, the King County judge who ruled earlier this month that the petition against Durkan could proceed stuck by that decision.
In response to the petition, Durkan said Wednesday, “I was elected to be Mayor of Seattle. It’s a democracy and if some time the voters decide they don’t want me, that’s alright, too.”