Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has issued several emergency orders in response to peaceful protests that turned violent on Saturday in the city’s downtown core.
She issued an order of civil emergency prohibiting the use of weapons, formal and informal, and instituted curfews Saturday and Sunday from 5 p.m.-5 a.m.
Durkan addressed reporters after protesters streamed onto Interstate 5 and forced it to close in the central part of the city.
Thousands of people had gathered downtown to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday. A police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with murder.
Saturday’s protest mirrored those happening in large cities across the country. Seattle police used pepper spray against demonstrators and deployed flash bangs to try to disperse the crowd.
Gov. Jay Inslee activated up to 200 members of the Washington National Guard to assist police, at the request of Durkan. They will be unarmed.
The protest began at Westlake Center earlier in the day, and was “largely peaceful,” Durkan said. But in the hours that followed, violence and destruction of property escalated.
Specifically, Durkan cited stolen firearms and people hurling Molotov cocktails and fireworks at crowds and buildings. Some set fire to police vehicles and other cars. At least one of the stolen firearms was recovered, Durkan said, and one “may be outstanding.”
The mayor praised the protesters who practiced “noble values” in honoring the American right to peacefully demonstrate, and condemned those who she says “hijacked” the demonstration for the purpose of creating chaos.
“The escalated incidents of destruction and violence do not honor Mr. Floyd,” Durkan said. “His own family has spoken against such violence and has urged everyone to demonstrate peacefully.”
Della Kostelnik Juarez arrived downtown at the rally with her daughter around 3 p.m. She was motivated to join the protest out of outrage over "black and brown people being murdered left and right."
She was near the monorail with a crowd of people when she said police began to push them back. At the same time, officers began to pepper spray.
"I would say the majority of the group started moving backwards, so it was really surprising to me that at the same time the cops started pushing, they started pepper spraying, just blanket pepper spraying," Kostelnik Juarez said. "To me, it felt completely unprovoked."
It started to feel scary, she said.
"We were worried for a moment that we were going to get trampled, which was a real possibility," she said.
Durkan also reminded people during her remarks Saturday night that there is still a stay-home order in effect in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her order was issued, in part, to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said it’s been a challenge to get to vehicle fires and extinguish them.
“I support exercising the right to free speech and peaceful demonstrations,” Scoggins said. “But this is not the way to do it, by causing unnecessary chaos and danger to those who are protesting and those who are in community.”
Scoggins stressed that blocking streets means blocking access routes for first-responders to reach those who are injured.
Karina Shagren, a spokesperson for the state military department, says the National Guard members who are being called up to assist with the on-the-ground response have special training in crowd control. While the governor authorized their deployment, City of Seattle officials will have authority over what they do in the city. In November 1999, the Washington National Guard also deployed to Seattle to assist with the WTO riots.
“It’s not unprecedented,” Shagren said. “It’s a mission we train for and are prepared to carry out when necessary.”
Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins, KNKX’s Ashley Gross, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.