Just as Seattle’s mayor and police chief were wrapping up a Sunday night news conference about ongoing protests against police brutality, a 27-year-old man at a demonstration on Capitol Hill was shot by a gunman who drove into the crowd.
The victim was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he was listed in stable condition, and the gunman was detained.
The shooting occurred shortly before 8:30 p.m., near the intersection of Eleventh Avenue and Pine Street where demonstrators have gathered repeatedly in the past week to protest police killings of Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
The shooting apparently happened while the gunman was still in the car. Dressed in blue jeans, a black sweatshirt and a black baseball cap, he then got out of his car, gun in hand, and made his way through demonstrators toward a line of police before he was taken into custody.
B.J. Hayes was standing nearby when the black car barreled down Eleventh Avenue from Pike Street toward hundreds of protesters. As the vehicle approached Pine Street, some demonstrators shouted, ran alongside and tried to slow it down by blocking its path with a metal panel taken from a police barricade.
“I thought he was plowing right into the crowd,” said Hayes, who has been attending several of the recent protests. “I totally thought I was going to see a bunch of bodies flying through the air.”
The man who was shot appeared to be hit as he reached into the driver’s window. He fell away backward as the driver exited the car.
Matt McAlman, who plays with The Marshall Law Band, was setting up for his sixth night of performing at Eleventh and Pike when the car came barreling past.
McAlman said he’d met the victim on a previous day of protests. When the man was shot and shepherded to safety by others in the crowd, one of McAlman’s bandmates asked the victim if he would be okay. In response, McAlman said, the man raised his fist in the air.
McAlman said he felt strengthened by the show of community at the demonstration and wouldn’t be deterred by the incident. “It was empowering to see nothing is going to stop us,” McAlman said.
The shooting victim was tended to first by protesters — one applied a tourniquet to the man’s arm, a social media video showed — and then by volunteer medics who walked him to an ambulance.
“I heard the gunshot go off in my arm. My whole thing was to protect those people down there,” the wounded man said as he walked away from the scene, according to a video recorded by Seattle journalist Alex Garland.
The nearly catastrophic incident occurred as demonstrators and police faced off on a 10th night of protests. The protest had remained peaceful throughout the afternoon and evening, with police initially remaining far back from the crowd in the area around the East Precinct.
Tensions rose throughout the night as some demonstrators advanced past a line of barricades that police had installed, ignoring repeated admonitions by a police commander, whose warnings on a loudspeaker drew boos. By the time of the shooting, the crowd had torn down the barricades, throwing a line of metal barriers up the street to create a new perimeter closer to the precinct.
“Many of you are proclaiming to be peaceful, and yet you continue to advance well beyond the barrier that we set up so everybody could say safe,” the SPD commander at the scene warned at around 10:20 p.m. as the crowd inched closer to the line of police in riot gear.
Throughout the night, demonstrators shouted back that it was the police who had stoked conflicts, as some demanded the authorities clear the way for a march. “Whose streets? Our streets!” they shouted. While some organizers with bullhorns urged the crowd to back up, others kept pushing toward the line of officers, drawing further warnings.
Around midnight, police used flash-bangs, pepper spray and tear gas against the remaining crowd, saying that some of the demonstrators were throwing bottles, rocks, fireworks and other projectiles at police, as well as shining lasers in officers’ eyes. Police also said a man with a gun was at the intersection at 11th and Pine. Gas filled the streets as protesters ran, and explosions from the flash-bangs continued for at least 20 minutes, social media videos and live streams showed.
In their video news conference earlier in the day, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best apologized for instances in which they said officers may have failed to deescalate tense moments, used disproportionate force against demonstrators and deployed less-than-lethal weapons too quickly.
“Use of force must be rare, it must be necessary and it must be proportional,” said Durkan, who announced a 30-day ban on most use of tear gas Friday only to see police deploy pepper-spray canisters and blast balls Saturday night, and again — along with tear gas, which the department said had been authorized — on Sunday. “Like everybody in our community, we know that was not the case, not only this week but in cases before.”
Referring to recent police actions on Capitol Hill, Durkan added, “I know that safety was shattered for many by the images, sound and gas more fitting of a war zone, and for that, I’m sorry.”
But Durkan and Best also asked protesters to do more to quell violence within crowds, blaming “bad actors” for inciting clashes, and said officers would continue to barricade streets surrounding the Police Department’s East Precinct.
While the city “should not look like a military zone,” officers must “respond to the reality on the ground,” Durkan said, citing “specific information from the FBI about threats” to police buildings in Seattle and projectiles thrown at officers at some demonstrations.
More than two dozen local elected officials sent a letter Sunday to Durkan and Best calling on them to “end the damage” the Police Department “has caused by overreaction to mostly peaceful protests.”
The Police Department has inflicted “emotional trauma and extraordinary racial aggression,” with tactics exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic, said the letter signed by multiple Seattle City Council members, King County Council members and state lawmakers.
The letter also said the officials would advance and support de-militarizing the police department and redirecting police department funds to community-based programs, among other aims.
The mayor Sunday said she would freeze spending on police technology, weapons, vehicles and buildings until after more dialogue with community members, and she promised to identify $100 million in budget allocations for community needs.
That money won’t necessarily come from reductions to the Police Department’s budget, however, she said. Some protesters have demanded that up to half of the Police Department’s $400 million-plus annual budget be redirected.
At prior news conferences about Seattle’s protests, Durkan repeatedly had condemned Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Yet protesters in the city also have been speaking out about people killed by officers here, she acknowledged Sunday.
Asked about Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant calling for Durkan to resign over the police response to the demonstrations, the mayor said she wouldn’t be “distracted by political ploys.” An online petition launched Friday by some local Democratic Party leaders calling on the mayor to resign had collected about 10,000 signatures by Sunday night.
Best left before the news conference ended to deal with the Capitol Hill demonstration.
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