OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday renewed his support of peaceful protests of George Floyd’s killing and praised organizers for helping clamp down on outbreaks of violence which have marred nightly demonstrations in Seattle.
And he said the idea of armed citizens camping out in front of stores — as occurred in Snohomish earlier this week — is a bad idea.
“Having more guns in a volatile situation makes things worse,” Inslee said, adding that he’d heard Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney expressing a similar view.
On Wednesday, Fortney posted a video statement on the sheriff’s department Facebook page denouncing Floyd’s killing as “abhorrent” and embracing the message of those demonstrating peacefully in response.
“Not only do you have a right to be out there, but as your elected sheriff and (on behalf of) the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office, I want to make it really clear, ‘We hear you, we see you, and we stand with you’,” he said.
And, in what appeared to be a reference to those armed individuals, he said he wanted the community “to be our eyes and ears out there. I’m asking that you let us do our job, and let us protect the community. We have a really good track record of it.”
Since the May 25 slaying of Floyd, demonstrations have occurred in communities throughout Snohomish County and across the state, the largest occurring nightly in Seattle.
Floyd, an African American man, died while in the custody of police in Minneapolis, Minn. A white police officer is seen on video pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes until he stopped breathing. That officer is now facing second-degree murder charges. Three other officers at the scene will also face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Inslee activated the Washington National Guard statewide Sunday night after vandalism and mass theft in stores and shopping malls in Seattle, Bellevue, Spokane and other cities. At one point, 600 unarmed troops were deployed to assist law enforcement in King County alone.
Tuesday night, 482 members were deployed to back up police in Seattle and Bellevue and the King County Sheriff’s Department.
Of those, 180 were in Seattle, 111 in Bellevue and 153 assisting law enforcement in Redmond, Covington, Renton, and Auburn, according to Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the National Guard. There also were 38 members involved in operations activities at the armory in Kent.
On Wednesday, Inslee waded into the debate on whether police have used excessive force in confrontations with protesters. Thousands of complaints have reportedly been made against Seattle officers.
“We understand officers have really tough jobs,” Inslee said, noting they’ve had bottles thrown at them, lasers shown in their eyes and more.
But, he said, “I’ve seen a few things that are troublesome and need to have answers. There are some things that need to be looked at.”
Inslee said he planned to meet Wednesday with leaders of Black Lives Matter, Not This Time and the Urban League to discuss racial justice, police reform and other issues.
Snohomish County registered a relatively quiet Wednesday.
Hours before Fortney issued his statement, a unanimous Snohomish County Council passed a resolution mourning Floyd’s death and supporting peaceful protests. The vote came after an hour of public comment.
“The killing of George Floyd was an unacceptable tragedy and we must all demand justice,” council Chairman Nate Nehring said in a statement. “I support the right for individuals to peacefully protest and condemn the hatred we have witnessed through racism, violence, and property damage.”
The measure mentions the situation Sunday night in Snohomish when a large crowd congregated outside downtown businesses. It doesn’t say any were armed. It does say “while the majority of these citizens were peacefully gathered to protect their city from harm, there were instances of individuals advertising hate symbols” which the resolution criticizes.
Some of those residents wore clothing and flashed 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.
Meanwhile, in Lynnwood, police reopened access roads to Alderwood Mall on Wednesday. And customers could access businesses albeit in a limited fashion due to COVID-related restrictions.
Those roads had been closed Monday and Tuesday as a preemptive measure against vandals and looters.
Police spokesperson Joanna Small declined Wednesday to provide the source and content of any of the threats which had prompted the closures.
“We aren’t going to release the information on threatening sources as this could jeopardize future investigative leads of this nature for our Criminal Investigation Division,” she said in a text. “They are coming from concerned community members, area businesses and social media for the most part. I couldn’t tell you how many — countless.”
Fortney, in a radio interview, said many threats were seen on social media about potential trouble in Snohomish.
“We have to take them seriously,” he told host Jason Rantz, “because if we don’t and they actually show up then we’ll be behind the ball and we can’t let that happen.”
Herald writers Andrea Brown and Zachariah Bryan contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.