By Heidi Groover / The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis, continued for a fourth day Monday in Seattle, with one having an all-too-familiar outcome: a violent confrontation with police.
Several hundred protesters marched from downtown Seattle to the police department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill, where they started calling for Mayor Jenny Durkan to meet them there. At one point, a couple of officers took a knee with protesters.
With metal barricades separating them from police, protesters chanted the names of people killed by police and repeated their demand for the mayor to appear. “We want Durkan,” they shouted.
Just after 9 p.m., the protest erupted into violence, with police using flash-bang grenades and tear gas to send protesters running from the scene. “Crowd has thrown rocks, bottles and fireworks at officers and is attempting to breach barricades one block from the East Precinct,” Seattle police tweeted.
One protester later confirmed objects were thrown at police, but said the officers’ response — flash bangs and tear gas — was disproportionate.
Videos of the officers spraying the crowd and deploying flash bangs quickly spread on social media Monday night; many of those who shared them said the footage showed the police were responsible for escalating the confrontation. A police officer at the front of the crowd can be seen grabbing a protester’s umbrella just before other officers deploy pepper spray into the crowd.
Protesters regrouped about a block away from the precinct and remained there while others returned downtown at 10:30 p.m.
Earlier, Durkan had called for another curfew beginning at 6 p.m., while shopping centers and police departments around the Puget Sound area prepared for the possibility of looting or violence. The city of Kirkland recommended all businesses close at 1 p.m., and the Alderwood mall in Lynnwood also closed early.
In downtown Seattle on Monday, protesters started congregating around 3 p.m. at Westlake Park. The day began with chants and speakers, who made their message of nonviolence clear, before the group started marching toward Seattle City Hall.
Summer Karaskova, who sat outside City Hall with her 6-year-old daughter, said she came out “to be counted” and to “demonstrate to my daughter there is an option in times of crisis.”
Floyd’s death has driven huge crowds to the streets because “it is impossible to interpret more than one view,” she said. “The truth of that moment was undeniable and too horrific to ignore.”
Karaskova said she wanted to see police join the demonstration “and walk with us.”
“That’s the first healing act that could be possible,” she said.
Another protester, Meraf Geberehiwot, said he was marching with “overwhelming grief, overwhelming anger.”
“This is a breaking point, a tipping point,” Geberehiwot said. “My spirit is unsettled.”
As the protesters made their way to the East Precinct, both directions of I-5 in Seattle were briefly closed Monday due the possibility of protesters walking onto the freeway.
Other protests took place in Renton, Tacoma and Olympia. In Olympia, police used flash-bang devices to clear away groups of people protesting outside City Hall.
In Seattle’s University District, many businesses were boarded up while police maintained a presence at the University Village shopping center, clearing customers out of the area.
A spokeswoman for the shopping center said all restaurants and businesses were closed at 2 p.m. out of an “abundance of caution” after police told her a protest could take place there Monday afternoon. Most University Village storefronts, including Piatti and Victoria’s Secret, had been boarded up by 3 p.m. QFC, which isn’t officially part of University Village, was also closed and boarded up.
Around 4:30 p.m., several people smashed windows at a nearby Safeway and ran inside before quickly fleeing. An alert from the University of Washington urged people to avoid the area, reporting that one person had been injured and taken to the hospital. No arrests had been made as of 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, a separate group of about 40 people started marching down an alley between QFC and Safeway, but were stopped and eventually pushed back by a line of police.
The scene calmed down quickly, some protesters said, leaving the group peacefully sitting in the parking lot to face off against police.
Jay Cole, a 17-year-old student at Mountlake Terrace High School, said she advocated for a peaceful gathering, but that some people feel looting is “the only way they’ll listen.”
She said she wasn’t one of the people who started smashing Safeway windows.
“I’m here to get justice, not only for George Floyd, but all people who were unarmed and killed by police,” Cole said.
UW students Betzy Villa and Asael Diaz also joined the peaceful protest in the Safeway parking lot. At one point, the two laid down with the rest of the group for nine minutes, signifying about the same amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street on May 25. A medical examiner on Monday classified Floyd’s death as a homicide, saying his heart stopped as police restrained him and compressed his neck.
“This is what feels right in order for change to happen because there’s so much oppression and racism,” Villa, 21, said.
Diaz, 20, said he was frustrated with the violence and looting that had happened over the weekend during protests in Seattle because he felt it took away from protesters’ main message of racial justice.
“What’s the point of going to college and you learn about all of these things, but you don’t ever get to act upon it,” Diaz said. “We hear about these justice movements and the people who suffered through them.”
Now, Villa added, students like her can be a part of them.