As a deadly pandemic resurges in Washington, city leaders in Seattle are preparing for a weekend of probable Portland-level conflict between newly arrived federal agents, the Seattle Police Department, and...let's call them.................groups of demonstrators using different strategies to protest police brutality and a capitalist, white supremacist, colonialist patriarchy that relies on state violence to sustain itself.
A few days after Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan appeared on right-wing radio and repeatedly said it "might" be time for President Trump to send his secret police to Seattle, on Thursday evening two Department of Homeland Security planes landed at Boeing Field. A source saw between 20 and 30 plain-clothed men disembark, along with lots of luggage.
Photos of the scene show men standing around the tarmac with police shields and big bags of stuff, and DHS has since confirmed with Mayor Durkan that the agency has "a limited number of agents in the area on standby to protect federal buildings."
At a press conference Friday morning, Durkan said she doesn't know how many agents DHS shipped out here, and she's still "hoping to get confirmation that there is no intent to unilaterally deploy" them. She didn't feel as if DHS acting secretary Chad Wolf had lied to her about his intentions to send the agents when he said he wouldn't, "but maybe there were some semantics that weren't forthcoming," she added, noting a difference between sending "standby" officers to fill in for Federal Protective Service officers that Seattle had recently routed to the federal courthouse in Portland and sending in agents on a mission to gas protesters.
"At this point, I have to presume that what is happening in Portland could happen here," she said.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins joined Durkan at the press conference, and each leader offered a different message to the city.
Durkan asked the city to "stand together to denounce" a group of protesters who busted up and lit fires within businesses and public buildings last Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night. She said this "relatively small" group is "bent on destruction," and referenced social media posts showing "they want to continue that kind of fight" this weekend.
Durkan argued these "acts of destruction...could serve as fodder for the President's attempts to show there's a need for him to come into Seattle or other cities," and said Trump's use of federal agents to crack down on protesters in Democratic cities "is frightening."
"Please don't take the bait. Don't buy into it. Be peaceful," Durkan said.
She added that her office, King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson "will act together...to take whatever legal steps we need to make sure what happened in Portland does not happen in Seattle."
Chief Best affirmed her department's commitment to abide by legislation banning the use of chemical weapons at demonstrations, which will go into effect on Sunday, and said the SPD will advance "an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations."
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed the law after police kettled and gassed protesters—nearly killing one—at 11th and Pine for days, which has drawn a lawsuit from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and others. On Wednesday a judge blocked a move from Durkan and Best to stop the law from going into effect. A court order barring cops from using gas and blast balls against peaceful protesters expires on September 30, though police may use such weapons if they see protesters engaging in "violent or life-threatening activity.”
Best went on to claim that the law "gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large violent crowd," but said she'd welcome any last-minute reinterpretation of the legislation if any of the council members were prepared to offer one.
In the meantime, Best said, "I'll be taking this pepper spray off of my belt and putting a riot stick on there."
In a statement, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the public safety committee, said Best's "adjusted deployment" strategy "suggests that SPD will not be onsite at locations of civil unrest to fulfill their policing obligations under the City Charter, the Seattle Municipal Code, and the laws of Washington State."
Herbold continued: "The Chief’s statements appear to reflect a decision to de-police in advance of any on-scene assessment of conditions. Decisions about how to interact with people engaged in unlawful activity and what policing actions are appropriate to take can only be made with the knowledge that our police officers gain at the scene and based upon their assessment of the conditions there."
Herbold also refuted "any attempt to place SPD’s deployment decisions for Friday or Saturday at the Council’s feet, as the Council’s Crowd Control Weapons Ordinance goes into effect on Sunday."
Moreover, Herbold pointed out that Durkan and Best "hadn’t attempted to argue that there would be irreparable harm from the ordinance taking effect nor did they argue that stopping the ordinance was in the public interest" when they asked the Court to block the chemical weapons ban earlier this week, which is partly why the Court didn't stop the ban from going into effect.
Both Best and Durkan said they hadn't spoken with SPOG president Solan about his request for federal agents to move into Seattle.
Chief Scoggins expressed concern about the fires lit by protesters, especially those lit within retail establishments located on the ground floor of apartment buildings. He said crews can't move in to put out fires if police need to clear the zone, and stressed that "we know really bad things happen when small fires become large fires."
Scoggins directed any protesters in need of medical assistance to get to the rear of the protests, and asked business owners to consider locking large dumpsters and to remove stuff that can be burned.
He also encouraged protesters to wear masks, maintain physical distancing, bring hand sanitizer, apply sunscreen, and to stay hydrated on account of the sunny forecast this weekend.
In a statement, Council President González and Councilmember Herbold described Trump's deployment of federal agents to Seattle as "dangerous political theater designed to intimidate and harm Americans exercising their constitutional right to protest."
“We ask all members of the public to be vigilant, to have a safety plan, and to know your rights, if you are demonstrating or are near demonstration areas. If you are detained, you have the right to remain silent and to speak to an attorney. The U.S. Constitution provides rights for everyone, regardless of your immigration status," they write.