Like much of America, protests, curfews and fear of looting have gripped Snohomish County as crowds decry racism a week after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Barricades were erected and storefronts shuttered from the Tulalip Indian Reservation to malls in Everett and Lynnwood to the historic downtown business district in Snohomish, where local residents are openly carrying assault rifles. By Monday, curfews were being ordered in some communities as leaders and law enforcement assessed the threats and hoped to prevent violence and vandalism.
Confrontations have broken out in big cities throughout the nation, including in Seattle.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people gathered in small-town Snohomish after officials learned of possible plans to destroy storefronts. Reports of looting in some Snohomish County cities prompted a heavy police presence.
It marred an otherwise successful weekend for organizers in Snohomish. An event called Rally for Racial Justice drew an estimated 400 people to town on Saturday. Snohomish For Equity treasurer Tabitha Baty helped organize the event.
“Saturday was very validating and felt very good,” she said. “Then Sunday came.”
Damage causes curfew
The Tulalip Resort Casino, Quil Ceda Village and Seattle Premium Outlets reportedly were the target of would-be looters Sunday night, according to a statement from the Tulalip Tribes.
Dozens of people showed up and several were arrested for investigation of criminal trespass, tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin said in the statement.
Tulalip officers were joined by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol and police from Everett, Marysville and Stanwood.
“We stand with George Floyd’s family and the families of every person who has been a victim of racial inequity and violence,” Gobin said. “Our people have lived through oppression; we know this pain. My heart breaks for anyone who has lost a loved one due to racial violence. His death did not need to happen, someone should have stopped it, and they should be held accountable. We raise our voice and drums in solidarity with you.
“… I do not understand why anyone would want to target Tulalip, a sovereign nation that has suffered generations of historical trauma.”
On Monday, the tribes put in place a curfew at the Tulalip Resort Casino and Quil Ceda Creek Casino, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Both locations opened last week, after closing for two months to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The casinos were to open again 10 a.m. Tuesday.
On Monday, the Lynnwood Police Department deployed officers around Alderwood mall, roads to which were barricaded. Businesses there were closed. In a news release, the police said they were informed of “potential groups bent on causing property damage and theft at the Alderwood Mall, similar to what we have seen in other neighboring jurisdictions in the Puget Sound.”
Around 3:30 p.m., an Everett Transit bus carrying police officers rolled into the mall’s parking lot. About 15 minutes later, officers turned away a group of teens hoping to enter the shopping center. At its peak Monday afternoon, there were several dozen people trying to reach the mall. Most appeared to be teens who were turned away.
Across the street, Costco closed early amid blocked roads and heavy police presence.
In declaring a state of emergency and a 5 p.m. curfew Monday, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith signed a proclamation that said in part: “The Lynnwood Police Department was made aware of credible threats to local businesses through a coordinated looting effort to occur on June 1st and beginning mid-afternoon.”
Bus riders at stops around the Alderwood mall area were affected by the street closures. Michelle Stevenson of Lynnwood waited and waited at her usual bus stop on a deserted street blocked by police. A few other riders also waited until someone informed them that buses were rerouted to streets that were open, about a five-minute walk away.
“I just want to get home and put my chicken in the oven,” Stevenson said.
Officers also closed roads near Everett Mall mid-afternoon Monday, though there were few signs of protesters.
Peaceful in Snohomish
On Saturday, hundreds of people demonstrated along Avenue D. Snohomish For Equity, a group that typically organizes a book club that meets every other month to discuss their latest read about minority experiences, organized the gathering.
It was organized late last week after momentum grew around the country following release of video of Floyd’s death. The group’s board was inspired after seeing two teenage girls stand at the intersection of Avenue D and Second Street with signs.
“We’ve got to at least make a stand that this is something we can’t stand for,” Baty said.
Baty grew up in Snohomish and moved away for a while but came back to raise her children. She joined the board last year.
She felt compelled to start this kind of anti-racism work after seeing her children, who are African American, treated with prejudice.
“I don’t want other kids to have to deal with the things that my kids have had to deal with,” she said. “And I’m sure there are worse things that have happened as well.”
The demonstration stretched over two blocks along Avenue D, with people trying to maintain social distance. They waved signs for an hour. Some chanted, “Black lives matter.”
At 3:51 p.m., the organizers asked the crowd to take a knee or raise a fist for the next nine minutes — the period of time now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck while the man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”
Baty and other organizers felt encouraged by the peaceful showing.
Her children told her there were posts on Snapchat, a social media video app, about anti-fascists heading to Snohomish on Sunday. She popped into downtown in the early afternoon and didn’t see much except some store owners and shopkeepers on the sidewalk.
Later that night when she drove by, the scene had morphed.
“It was night and day from when I drove through earlier,” Baty said. “Tons of heavily armed people. I felt very uncomfortable just driving through there. Tons of people, beer, flags, white-power hand signs.”
Baty and the other organizers with Snohomish For Equity are looking ahead to the momentum gained from the protests.
“Initially, it was disappointing because Saturday was so successful,” she said. “But it doesn’t take away from what we did, from the positive that we did.”
Later in Snohomish
On Sunday, many people armed with guns took to First Street, reportedly after a rumor about civil unrest, the Snohomish Police Department said.
Officers had been alerted about an online post from a local antifa, or anti-fascist, group. It reportedly claimed they planned to bring destructive protests to America’s rural small towns and announced a gathering in Snohomish on Sunday afternoon, said Courtney O’Keefe, spokesperson for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
“We never received a screen shot of the actual Facebook post,” she said. “We just received multiple tips from people saying there was a post on the Emerald City Antifa page that was deleted.”
Police services in Snohomish are contracted through the sheriff’s office.
Officers, deputies and the SWAT team arrived in the city around 4 p.m. An armored vehicle was parked near city hall, as a law enforcement presence, O’Keefe said.
Business owners and others began to gather outside stores along First Street, along with elected representatives such as Republican state Rep. Robert Sutherland of Granite Falls. Sheriff Adam Fortney also was there to help coordinate resources, O’Keefe said.
“The sheriff walked through town and spoke with some folks, making sure people were being respectful and safe,” she said.
No one was arrested during the gathering, she said.
Fortney plans to issue a public response to Floyd’s death, O’Keefe said, but hadn’t as of 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Pictures and video on social media showed people standing along First Street with large guns. Some displayed clothing and hand signals that indicated they were part of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The leader of the Washington National Guard on Monday discouraged such citizen action.
“Everyone needs to take it easy,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, at a news conference with Gov. Jay Inslee. People need to “remain calm and please don’t run around with weapons.
“The more weapons there are at a site, the more chances to have an accidental shooting,” he said. “Let’s not make a situation worse than it needs to be.”
Republican state Sen. Keith Wagoner of Sedro-Woolley said he has “great respect” for Daugherty but disagreed with his stance toward what transpired in Snohomish.
“People exercised thoughtfulness and executed a thoughtful plan,” he said. “Nobody got hurt and no property was damaged. I call that a success. I don’t call that running around with guns.”
Mayor John Kartak called the gathering peaceful and said divisive groups do not represent Snohomish.
“We live in a community that is just one of the most open and friendly I’ve seen in my life,” he said.
Monday afternoon, two people with guns stood watch in Snohomish. A man who declined to identify himself said they were there to “keep business owners and businesses safe. We don’t need our little town torn apart.”
The man said they heard about organizing to protect Snohomish on social media and that more people were supposed to be coming out, though he wasn’t sure when.
Herald writers Andrea Brown, Jerry Cornfield, Ian Davis-Leonard and Joseph Thompson contributed to this report.