SEATTLE, WA—After weeks of continuous protests and riots in Seattle, violence in the city surged on Saturday, July 25, with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) eventually declaring the day’s events a riot.
The weekend began with a restraining order being placed on the Seattle City Council’s ban on “less-lethal crowd management tools” like pepper spray. Federal Judge James Robart issued the temporary order, allowing the SPD to “meet procedural requirements of the Consent Decree that govern revisions to policy and training.”
“In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence,” SPD Chief Carmen Best wrote in a statement about the order. “This is consistent with existing policy and the Court’s order of early this morning. SPD promises the community that we will not deploy CS (tear) gas.”
Just past 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, two groups of protestors gathered at Seattle Central College and Cal Anderson Park. Both merged into one crowd and marched southwards on Broadway.
At around 4:00 p.m., the group reached the King County Juvenile Court Youth Services Center. The SPD announced that approximately a dozen people entered the building and burned portable trailers and other equipment. Possible explosions could be heard.
Reports of “protestors,” “demonstrators,” and “groups” breaking windows of vehicles and businesses were made to the police. While most of the violence is believed to have occurred on 12th Avenue, some incidents took place on Pine Street too.
Police officers called the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) to 12th Avenue after sightings of what was potentially smoke inside a business. People were also allegedly spray-painting on and trying to “disable cameras and damage fence perimeter” around the East Precinct. This area was previously the site of the “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” which was recently dismantled by the Mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan.
Two minutes after the East Precinct vandalism reports were publicized, the SPD proclaimed that as a result of damages linked to the initial aggression on 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street, it was declaring the events a riot.
Shortly afterward, East Precinct officers observed smoke in the building’s lobby. “At least one person” had apparently “breached” the precinct’s fence-boundary before this. A few hours later, the SPD Tweeted what appears to be an update on the situation: a device had exploded, leaving an approximately 8-inch-wide hole in a precinct wall.
Crowds were ordered to disperse and less-lethal ammunition—which had been legalized hours earlier due to the restraining order—was deployed. Dispersal orders were reportedly ignored, and a “large crowd” remained at Pine Street and Broadway. While police officers attempted to clear the area, several objects were allegedly thrown at them by the crowd, including: “bottles and balloons filled with liquid,” rocks, mortars, fireworks, and explosives.
As per a SPD report on the day’s events, 47 individuals were arrested throughout the day for “assaults on officers, failure to disperse, and obstruction.” When the report was published, Arson/Bomb Squad detectives were still working on identifying who threw the explosive at the East Precinct. 59 police officers were injured; one was also hospitalized.
Another SPD report mentioned that police officers utilized “less-lethal equipment, including OC spray, blast balls, and 40mm sponge rounds.” It also claims that tear gas, as promised, was not deployed.
A large number of social media users, organizations, and protestors accused the police of perpetuating violence.
Seattle’s National Lawyers Guild (NLG) issued a statement “condemning the violent targeting of legal observers and indiscriminate use of crowd control munitions” on Saturday by the SPD. A police officer allegedly deployed pepper spray at a legal observer’s face at close range. The NLG claims to have “sought and received assurances from SPD that its legal observers would not be targeted at protests.”
“So much mace was used my eyes are still burning,” a protestor Tweeted. “I asked the officer what provoked their attack and they responded by telling me to shutup unless I could prove I was legal council.” A now-viral video accompanied this Tweet, appearing to show police officers beating individuals and deploying pepper spray at them at close range.
A protestor shared images of injuries that were allegedly caused by “being shot point blank.”
Another viral video shows a crowd of police officers macing demonstrators. A social media user pointed out that an officer also seemed to be pointing an unspecified weapon at a nurse’s head.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie filed a motion for contempt in an ongoing lawsuit: “Black Lives Matter v. City of Seattle.” The news release concerning the filing alleged that the “SPD deployed excessive and indiscriminate force against protestors in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle on Saturday, July 25, 2020, firing and throwing explosives and chemical weapons into a peaceful march.”
Events on Sunday were largely peaceful. The SPD and SFD did not report any arrests or fires respectively.