Seattle mayor, police chief address protesters; discuss curfew and police response
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best held an impromptu forum with protesters Tuesday evening. They listened to demands for action and faced questions around the city’s plans for police accountability and the police response to protests so far.
The meeting came as the city was in its fifth day of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and a long-standing pattern of violence against Black people across the country.
Floyd, a Black man, died last week after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
One man thanked Durkan and Best for coming out to speak with people, but said he also wanted to acknowledge that it took four days of peaceful protest for that to happen.
Durkan made a commitment during the encounter to sit down with community organizers at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to begin the conversation about what change is needed and how to move forward on police reform.
She said the conversation has to include community voice and acknowledged there would need to be a process for building trust.
“I know that has to be earned. That kind of trust isn’t here today or you wouldn’t be in the streets marching,” Durkan said.
Best told the crowd she stands with them.
“I understand the hurt and the anger that everyone feels,” Best said. “There’s a whole lot of people who support you, myself and many of the officers here today.”
Durkan and Best received some cheers from the crowd, but also faced boos and chants of "No more gas" as they addressed them.
Use of tear gas and flash bangs
Police have used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse crowds on multiple occasions during the protests.
When asked if she could promise "no gas" Tuesday night, Durkan responded: “Nobody wants there to be gas.”
She continued to say nobody is happy with how things ended in Capitol Hill on Monday, where the situation quickly escalated after hours of peaceful marches. But Durkan said she would not stand up and make a promise she couldn’t keep.
Concerns have been raised by some city council members and members of the public that officers may not be giving appropriate advanced notice and orders of dispersal before using tear gas and flash bangs.
“Officers should give a dispersal order before using flash bangs,” Chief Best said Tuesday during a press conference when asked if officers were being directed to give crowds notice.
But she continued that the department’s policy states that order should be given “when it’s feasible to do so.”
Best did not comment on whether tear gas and flash bangs had been appropriately deployed on Monday night or over the weekend.
She noted that objects had been thrown at officers in Capitol Hill on Monday, but also acknowledged that she’d heard many concerns about the response.
Best and Durkan both said the city’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) would be reviewing videos and complaints to ensure actions were within policy and, if they weren’t, to ensure people are held accountable.
Durkan said Tuesday that Seattle has come too far on police reform to shy away from an honest review of any police actions.
OPA has received more than 12,000 complaints about the police response to demonstrations so far.
READ: 12,000 complaints filed against Seattle Police after weekend of protests
Best said police have made 86 arrests so far for things like assault, burglary and property destruction.
Best reiterated that many people have gathered peacefully in Seattle to express their rage and grief, and exercise their right to free speech, and she respects that. But she said the violence and destruction that has also occurred is unacceptable.
Evening curfew extended
Best indicated that she expects protests to continue in the coming days. She announced during the Tuesday press conference that Seattle will remain under an evening curfew for several more days.
The night curfew will last from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Saturday morning.
Some Seattle city council members have criticized the use of a curfew, which started after protests escalated into violence over the weekend.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington condemned the curfews in Seattle and surrounding cities, stating online that they “risk chilling the free speech of communities and individuals who are calling for a change to Washington’s and this country’s history of biased policing and disparate use of force against Black people.”
Best said she took a lot of care before asking the Mayor to implement the curfew.
“We certainly don’t want to be an oppressive force, and we don’t want people to not have their freedoms, but we also have a real due diligence and responsibility to use every tool that we can to make sure that we keep the city safe,” she said.
Protests continued in Seattle past the curfew Tuesday night.