The Washington State Patrol has apologized after video surfaced of an officer telling his team, “Don’t kill them, but hit them hard,” while preparing to clear protesters from the streets in Seattle’s Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening.
The video was taken shortly before 7:45 p.m. Tuesday by Krystal Marx, executive director of Seattle Pride, who had stopped by her office on East Pine Street between 11th and 12th avenues earlier that day to wait for a UPS shipment, only to be trapped inside for a time by the heavy law enforcement presence.
“I had my window open in my office so I could hear what was going on and when it would be safe to go home,” Marx said in an interview Wednesday. “I heard officers beneath me saying, ‘Hit ’em hard, hit ’em hard.'” She grabbed her phone and started recording.
Then, one officer, who appeared to be briefing the troopers on rules of engagement with protesters, made the “Don’t kill them, but hit them hard” comment, said Marx, who also is a Burien City Council member and deputy mayor.
“I remember shaking,” said Marx, who wonders why the officer would need to talk about hitting protesters or feel it necessary to remind troopers not to kill people. “Why not say, ‘Restrain them, calmly’?” she said.
The troopers, clad in riot gear, had gathered in the area of continuing protests about the death George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.
Marx posted video of the patrol incident to her personal Twitter account, and it swiftly went viral, garnering more than 1 million views by 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Twitter users responded, some with comments praising police aggression, others with horror. One wrote: “Hit them hard but don’t kill them? Just maim and disfigure, am I right officer?”
WSP spokesman Chris Loftis, in a statement released Wednesday morning, said the officer was trying to motivate, reassure and prepare his team for a difficult task.
He said officers were getting ready to conduct a “push technique” designed to force “aggressive, non-compliant, and threatening protesters away from a designated area. That type of physicality takes motivation and focus as well as balance and restraint. The team leader’s intent of motivating and reassuring his troopers was commendable but his word choice, especially when considered outside of the context of his team’s immediate challenges, was not.”
The statement added: “WSP is aware of the video and apologizes for the poor choice of words by one our team leaders preparing his troopers for a possibly confrontational situation. We hope the public will accept that apology and we ask for grace and understanding as our troopers are serving in tense situations of danger and difficulty.
“They are doing so with courage, commitment and compassion, but not always with perfection. As disappointed as we are that a word choice might obscure that work, we are proud of how our agency and others have worked to protect the rights of free speech and peaceful demonstration throughout this unprecedented period of statewide demonstrations.”
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee said the language used in the incident “was not in keeping with what we expect of our State Patrol officers.” He said he asked State Patrol Chief John Batiste to review the incident and take any necessary response.
“Look, I think we all understand that officers in these situations do have really tough jobs, they have bottles being thrown at them,” Inslee said, adding that Batiste told him officers have had laser beams shined into their eyes during the protests. “But we have to have high levels of standards for our State Patrol,” he said.
Marx said she has not yet heard directly from the Patrol but wants the organization to listen to the voices of marginalized communities as it considers its response to the incident.
“I want them to listen to our communities of color, our black and brown communities, the ones that are protesting out of fear and rage and exhaustion at how they have been treated for a very long time — to hear how to do better and incorporate that into their everyday operations,” she said.
Staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.