“NOTICE: This community protected by security patrol. All suspicious activity reported,” the sign says. It sits at an intersection in a neighborhood near Magnuson Park. On Sunday night, other signs surrounded it, lofted by protesters, offering spiritual counterpoints: “Stop Police Terror.” “Defund SPD.” “Abolish Police.” “Dykes Against Durkan.” “5% Is Not Enough.” “5% Are You Fucking Kidding?”
A protester pushed a free snack cart between the hundreds who’d gathered (around 500 according to Facebook). The CHOP medic who wears knight’s armor to protect against police weapons—“people have been calling me the Paladin”—was present. Cyclists from Seattle’s Bike Brigade, functioned as a sort of cavalry, as they have at many protests, blocking intersections to protect marchers. Evening sun cast long shadows. Massive trees rose all around. Speakers came to a mobile PA and stage.
“We heard a rumor,” said one, “that [Jenny] Durkan lives in one of these houses.” (The mayor—whose home location has not been publicly disclosed for fear of death threats after she worked as a U.S. attorney—Tweeted that she was at city hall during the protest.)
At one point, a loud bang kicked through the intersection. A firework, organizers surmised. Someone mentioned an “agitator,” before heading toward the sound. A couple others—with yellow vests and walkie-talkies—said they weren’t sure who’d caused it. That was it, though. A blip of distress and the rest of the night calm. The uniformed cops, who at the start of the month patrolled even smaller local protests, were absent.
That change is fitting, since the night’s rallies—organized by the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America and Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and Families (MMIP)—held special significance.
It’s been a month. A month since Seattle erupted in protest against the police killing of George Floyd. A month since SPD turned out with militant force in downtown, which ended with flaming cop cars and looting. A month since Durkan, at her first of many press conferences about the protests, expressed her greatest grief as she spoke of downtown’s property damage, all that broken glass. A month in which the police immediately received more than 12,000 complaints about how they handled that first weekend. A month in which that police force turned again and again to tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray. A month which saw CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or Organized Protest) expanding, CHOP roiled with violence, CHOP contracting. A month of constant protests: a 60,000 person march from the Central District, a Juneteenth of marches and rallies across over the city.
On Sunday, the crowd first gathered at Magnuson Park, just outside the apartments where, three years ago, two SPD officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles. Shaun Scott, the local writer and filmmaker, who ran for the district's city council seat but lost to Alex Pedersen, spoke. “People have to understand that everything that we're seeing from the police department is them on their best behavior. They've been under federal investigation since 2012.” He called again, as when he was running, for police abolishment.
The protesters moved to Durkan’s neighborhood. Kshama Sawant told the crowd she would to bring articles of impeachment against Durkan. (Tuesday morning, Durkan shot back, asking in a letter for the council to investigate Sawant, citing in part her leading the march to the mayor's house, where protesters then spray-painted "obscenities.") Roxanne White from MMIP spoke about violence against Native people in the region and country, like John T. Williams, who an SPD officer killed in 2010, and Stonechild Chiefstick, who Poulsbo police killed last July.
During speeches, someone wrote “Next Time We Come w/ Pitchforks” in pink chalk on the street. Someone else scrawled the movement’s three demands in blue chalk: defunding SPD by 50 percent, re-investing in communities, releasing all protesters without charges.
Speakers deemed the King County Labor Council’s move to expel the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, which has blocked and walked back reforms, “a victory.” They were less enthused about Durkan’s proposed $20 million cut (5 percent) to the police budget: “Mayor Jenny, you missed a zeroooooo!” went one chant. (Seattle faces a budget shortfall of $378 million this year. Were the city to slash that from departments equally, that’d mean around $100 million from SPD’s $407 million budget, which commands 27 percent of the adopted general fund.)
The last speaker in Durkan’s neighborhood was Katrina Johnson, Charleena Lyles’s cousin, who’s become the spokesperson for the family. “I’m not gonna lie to you guys. I’m tired. The death threats are beyond anything you guys could ever imagine.” Her speech, like many that night, was a call for unity. “We got community leaders fighting with other community leaders and it does nothing for our movement.”
The crowd marched back to Magnuson. Passing drivers supportively chirped their horns. Accumulated on a baseball field, protesters collectively emailed various cities' mayors in the region to drop lawsuits preventing police accountability (tinyurl.com/dropyourlawsuit, if interested).
Leaving Magnuson, I talked to one of the protesters. She lived on Capitol Hill and had been at CHOP nearly every day, she said. She was pleased to learn, via a speaker from Atlanta, that Seattle’s been an inspiration around the country. She asked me what I thought of the night. I said I was impressed to see such persistently high turnout. I’d worried protests were losing momentum: Covid-19 cases are spiking. Juneteenth has passed. CHOP’s end seemed near, and only nearer the next morning after two boys were shot and one died.
On Sunday night, though, after leading standard chants with verve over the PA—“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”—one MC, the one from Atlanta, gestured toward the movement’s future: “You can’t shut down CHOP. CHOP is in our hearts.” Then he continued on, in the face of great grief, with joy.
Updated on June 30 to show that the collective email was directed at local city mayors who sued King County, not at the county itself.