SEATTLE — Thousands of protesters gathered near downtown Seattle on Saturday in a show of solidarity with fellow demonstrators in Portland, where tensions with federal law enforcement have boiled over.
Seattle’s protesters began the rally and march over racial injustices Saturday afternoon peacefully, with organizers also aware that police officers would be carrying pepper spray and blast balls in accordance with a contested department protocol that was cleared by a last-minute, federal emergency court hearing.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best had announced officers would be armed with those weapons in a statement Saturday morning, promising officers would not use tear gas and urging demonstrators to remain peaceful.
“In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence,” Best said.
At an emergency hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge James Robart granted a request from the federal government to block Seattle’s new law prohibiting police from using pepper spray and blast balls.
The temporary restraining order halts the law that the Seattle City Council passed unanimously last month after protests confrontations that have largely been peaceful but were occasionally marked by violence, looting and highway shutdowns. The law intended to de-escalate tensions between police and demonstrators was set to take effect on Sunday.
But the U.S. Department of Justice, citing Seattle’s longstanding police consent decree, successfully argued that banning the use of crowd control weapons could actually lead to more police use of force, leaving them only with more deadly weapons.
Robart, who is presiding over a 2012 consent decree requiring the city to address allegations of excessive force and biased policing, said the issue needed more discussion between the city and the Justice Department before that law could go into effect.