High school students from across Seattle took to the streets on Monday afternoon to protest the racism and xenophobia upheld by Donald Trump's election last week. Students marched from Capitol Hill's Cal Anderson Park to Westlake in downtown as part of a nationwide walkout. The demonstrations made local and national headlines.
One idea local media latched onto: that Seattle police officers arrested three people, all allegedly not Seattle Public School students. This was incorrect.
UPDATE: 2 individuals arrested @ downtown demonstration ARE @seapubschools students - 18 & 19 y/o. 3rd arrestee is 30 y/o & not SPS student. https://t.co/DWDuDlH7ty
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) November 15, 2016
Around 5:15 p.m., SPD officers arrested Zora Seboulisa, 18, and Carlos Ayala, 18, both seniors at Nova High School. The third person arrested was Matthew Erickson, 30, a community organizer. Seboulisa, who is a transgender woman, was arrested on felony assault for allegedly "tackling" a Seattle police officer on a bike. Ayala was also arrested on felony assault for allegedly pushing officers while trying to get to his friend, a police report states. Erickson was also arrested for assault.
However, during an initial appearance hearing at the King County Department of Corrections on Tuesday afternoon, both Ayala and Seboulisa were released on their own personal recognizance and the condition that they would attend follow-up court dates.
During their short hearings, neither Seboulisa nor Ayala provided details of the events that transpired at the protest. Seboulisa's mother, Nandi, gave a statement to the judge and described her daughter as respectful and a compassionate role model at school. Nova High School history and language arts teacher Allegra Guarino provided a statement on behalf of Ayala, whom she described as a peaceful student who often participated in meditation at school. Lee Edmond, Seboulisa's attorney, told The Stranger that he had "heard on the street and from witnesses that the officer intentionally ran into Zora with her bike and then other officers piled on." However, he said, he could not confirm whether this was true. Edmond did not speak to the facts of the case, either.
The tiny courtroom was packed with a crowd that included the students' friends, Seboulisa's mother, and the two Nova High School teachers who all celebrated when the judge announced his decision.
In an interview after the hearing, Nandi described her daughter as an "upstanding community organizer" and a dedicated student headed for graduation next summer.
"She's demonstrative in her liberty, which she should be. It should be expected," she said. "She comes from a family of protesters. Her grandmother picked cotton on a Mississippi plantation until she was fourteen. It was social activism from start to finish."
Guarino and Liza Campbell, both teachers at Nova High School, described both students as kids who didn't put up with micro-aggressions from the community and stood up for what they believed in.
"Zora has been a truly impressive leader in terms of really getting people to think deeply and critically about the world that we live in," said Campbell. "She is really vigilant and thoughtful about issues of racism and transphobia and speaks out on those issues regularly."
Guarino described Ayala as a "peaceful presence at school" and said she was surprised that he was involved in the incident.
"I know that the students in the past couple days have been saying that they feel powerless by their lack of ability to vote," said Guarino. "Their motivation for being vocal outside of school was just a desire to be heard even though they didn't have a say in what was happening [with the election]."
Both teachers expressed frustration that police officers arrested the students rather than attempt to reason with them.
"As a teacher, I understand the complexity of dealing with a large group of young people with a lot of passion," said Guarino. "I know that can be scary as an adult, but [there should be] better communication between young people and police in both directions so they can talk together."
She added: "We deal with students with big feelings all the time and it makes me sad that whatever happened [on Monday], whether the students were in the right or the wrong, that they didn't use the non-violent restorative techniques to deescalate."
The Stranger initially heard reports refuting SPD's claims about Monday's arrestees through social media.
Calista Bell, a student at the Center School, claimed to witness Seboulisa's and Ayala's arrests.
"Zora was backing up and a police bike hit her and she stumbled back and the cops saw that as a sign of aggression, from what I saw," she said. "They took her by the throat and pinned her to the ground. Then the crowd lost it because they wanted to go help her. So everyone rushed in and that’s when another person was grabbed."
Bell, 17, also criticized the department for misgendering Seboulisa.
Guarino added: "I think what’s more disturbing than them being arrested and charged as adults is that when you look at the footage from the protests, there are many more white faces. And yet, the only people who were arrested [on Monday] were people of color, in particular, a trans-woman of color and a Mexican American. That is sad."
SPD public information officer Sean Whitcomb said that "gender identity did not come up" during the arrest. He had not heard about Bell's allegations before, but encourages anyone who may have been a witness to call him in his office at 206-615-0923 to make a report about the officer's use of force. Witnesses can also file a complaint about police misconduct by contacting the city's Office of Professional Accountability, which oversees the department.
When asked why the police put out the bad information in their initial report, Whitcomb said officers used what preliminary information they had at the time. The department has since corrected their initial report on social media. In the past, some allegations of assault against police have turned out to be false.
There were also reports that police pepper sprayed students during the demonstrations. Whitcomb confirmed them, but did not have further details. If you saw what happened, e-mail me at email@example.com.