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caption: Armed men patrol the storefronts of downtown historic Renton on Tuesday June 02, 2020.
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Armed men patrol the storefronts of downtown historic Renton on Tuesday June 02, 2020.
Credit: Esmy Jimenez/KUOW News

Armed men in Renton say they support local protesters

Protests that started in Seattle have trickled into surrounding cities. And while most remain peaceful, some businesses have taken to guarding their buildings fully armed.

On Tuesday afternoon, a small but organized group of 40 people gathered at Renton City Hall and then walked to historic downtown, where they chanted, "White silence is violence."

Ibijoke Idowu-Holiday is one of the local organizers. While she lives in Seattle, most her work is in the south side. This was the second day of protesting. On Monday, they drew a larger group and high school graduates even came out to stand with them in their cap and gowns.

The Renton march was a local ripple among a wave of protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd. A white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes as he struggled to breath. The officer was unphased as Floyd died under his weight in front of cameras.

The march was peaceful as demonstrators made their statement, weaving through downtown streets, all while walking past several armed men, posted in front of storefronts.

One of them, Maurice Whitney, was out with his shotgun.

He's had people coming up to him with questions and sometimes shock.

caption: Maurice Whitney is a local Renton resident and property manager. He says he's with the protesters, just not with those inflicting damage.
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Maurice Whitney is a local Renton resident and property manager. He says he's with the protesters, just not with those inflicting damage.
Credit: Esmy Jimenez

"They’re like, ‘Oh it’s intimidating.’ And the thing is -- it's supposed to be intimidating. Not to the protesters, but to the people who want to come and cause trouble.”

Whitney manages a few properties in the area. He says the buildings can deal with cracked windows but not fire. And, he insists he’s with the marchers.

"All of us support the protest and Black Lives Matter. Everybody feels that it was a very big injustice that was done to [George] Floyd."

As protests have emerged in Western Washington, so have reports of residents arming themselves with guns in downtown areas. Some Bellevue residents recently blocked off the entry to their neighborhood, armed with firearms, as a protest was underway in downtown.

Kirkland's city manager confirmed with KUOW that residents went into their downtown armed with guns over recently. It also happened in Snohomish, where a handful of armed men showed up in that small town, alongside American and Confederate flags.

National Guard commander Major General Bret Daugherty has commented on such actions, noting that even guard members are unarmed in cities with protests.

"(We're not armed) because we don't want somebody shot by accident, and the more weapons there are at a site the more likely you are to have an accidental shooting, so please just everybody calm down, leave your weapons at home," Dougherty said. "Peacefully demonstrate as much as you want to, but let's not make this a situation that is worse than it has to be."

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Protesters in Renton, WA on Tuesday June 02, 2020 marching against police brutality.
Credit: Esmy Jimenez

Idowu-Holiday, the protest organizer, didn't speak to the armed men but but commented to others on her mic, "That right there is probably a racist, you guys. If we are protesting and people are shaking their heads, then we are probably doing something right."

She also stressed to the group that it was important to research and support businesses who support the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We have to hold poc [people of color owned] businesses accountable too," she said, pointing to a Mexican restaurant that lacked signage, unlike a craft store across the street.

"We are not supporting these businesses that do not support us. Be mindful. Hit them in their wallets."