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NLG observers in Seattle
Credit: Courtesy of the National Lawyers Guild Seattle Chapter

Lawyers Guild observer believes her group was targeted by police at protest

Protesters against police violence packed the streets of Seattle again this weekend. On Saturday, things turned violent in Capitol Hill. Seattle police declared a riot, and arrested 47 demonstrators.

Annika Carlsten is a public defender in Snohomish County. She was at Saturday's protest as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild. She was decked out in a bright green hat and vest that are well known to Seattle police.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Carlsten says she believes her team of observers was targeted by SPD.

Annika Carlsten: I was actually off on the intersection, with maybe at most 15 to 20 people around me -- several press people, several clearly marked medic people, myself, a couple other observers. None of us engaged in anything that could be misconstrued as interfering at all, when they began pepper spraying and throwing blast balls, which are essentially sort of flash grenades but with pepper spray inside them. One of those directly hit and burst on my ankle, cutting open my ankle, tearing through my clothes, all of that.

What did you think in that moment? You say it burned through your clothes. What was that like?

In that moment, I actually, honestly thought that they had broken my ankle. It's that kind of sudden pain. Personally, it was incredibly shocking. I've been doing this for 20 years, and never had that happen to me before; 20 years, all over the country, and never had that happened to me before.

And you say it was shocking. You don't recall anything that happened in the moments leading up to that?

I was simply videotaping their use of the force. I was standing there with my camera videotaping what was happening. We, as a policy, do not engage, obviously, and we don't speak with officers, we don't speak with the protesters. I was standing there silently, clearly marked as an observer, clearly simply filming the use by multiple different officers, with multiple different tools that point.

I think there's several videos out there that show just a wide use at that point to move the crowd, and absolutely indiscriminately firing into the crowd, tossing into the crowd.

You were out there as a legal observer, but you weren't alone. Can you tell us more about what happened and who was injured?

I was there as the supervisor of about 20 other LO’s (legal observers) who were there throughout the day. I want to mention that it's not just myself who was injured while doing this, that there were multiple reports from other observers on the ground of injuries that they were suffering throughout the day. Multiple observers having blast balls thrown specifically in their direction, being targeted in that regard, multiple LO’s having officers either use their hands directly or bikes to push them out of the way.

One of our observers got sprayed at close proximity in the face with pepper spray. So many issues throughout the day that I started to lose track of who was getting injured as they were there observing. And again, I want to remind folks that we were told that we would be safe while we were there, and that we were clearly identified.

It was a violent day on Saturday, and Seattle police have said that nearly 60 officers were injured, that rocks and bottles were thrown at them, that they were hit with projectiles. They've posted a number of photos of what appear to be a variety of injuries. Eventually, as you know, they declared a riot. From your perspective, was the response by police Saturday necessary and proportional?

I would say that it absolutely wasn't necessary or proportional. In fact, I think their response is essentially what fueled things into a bigger and bigger situation; that they escalated every step of the way, in terms of using force, in terms of going after people, all things that made the situation worse. In terms of the officer’s injuries, some of the injuries in pictures I've seen are consistent with the injury that I have from SPD myself.

I think it's important for people to understand that the officers are speaking about explosives being thrown at them. Oftentimes, you can see in the videos, it's the explosives that they're throwing at the crowd that is bouncing back at them. I saw several officers drop explosives onto themselves as they're doing things. It's that indiscriminate use of those items in the first place, that brings them into the picture. The police brought those weapons to the scene and then threw those weapons out into the crowd and when it bounced back, they were injured.

I also think it's important to note that we're talking about police themselves who are in full riot gear, throwing those same items they're now saying hurt them out into a crowd that is not dressed for a riot, people who are wearing t shirts and shorts and that sort of thing,

So many people are following news coverage of these protests, but they haven't been there in person to see for themselves. As someone who's been there on the ground, what do you want people to know about what's happening?

I think what's important to know is that it is a situation in which everybody in the crowd is being punished the same way by SPD. So, regardless of what individual protesters are doing, regardless of what actually has been happening by specific individuals, people who we don't know why they're there or what they're doing, it's sort of akin to - if you know that one kid in the class cheats on an exam and you're failing the entire class. In this situation, individual protesters are doing certain things and the entire crowd is bearing the punishment of that.

Seattle Police could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the allegations from legal observers have been sent to the Office of Police Accountability.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.