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caption: Activists kneel in front Seattle Police during a protest on Sunday, May 31st, 2020.
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Activists kneel in front Seattle Police during a protest on Sunday, May 31st, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Seattle police use tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful protesters

Black Lives Matter activists have been organizing protests in Seattle for multiple days since the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis. What started out as peaceful protests of racial injustice have ended with police dispersing crowds with multiple non-lethal weapons.

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, you could feel the tension downtown.

Black Lives Matter activists had been marching since noon, chanting “no justice, no peace” and “these racist cops have got to go.” The peaceful march ended with a rally at Westlake Park.

Chasten Cole brought her two young kids, who were carrying flowers.

“As a community, you have to be a leader,” Cole said. “And if you want to make a change, this is how you do it.”

Cole brought her family for a speaking event set for 3 o’clock. But by 2:30 p.m., the crowd had grown significantly and spilled into side streets. A lot of young, white men showed up to face the police in the street.

caption: Chasten Cole stood with thousands of protesters in the rain on Saturday, May 30th, 2020.
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Chasten Cole stood with thousands of protesters in the rain on Saturday, May 30th, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Some threw rocks and bottles. And at 2:37 p.m., the first flash bang grenade exploded at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. People ran screaming – including Chasten Cole and her kids.

“Right now, I came out here for a peaceful protest. That's why I brought my kids. I want to take a stand. I want my voice to be heard. That's what I'm here for. I didn't come here to damage anything,” Cole said.

The scheduled event started around 3 p.m. with prayers, music, and a speech from march organizer Andre Taylor – whose brother was killed by Seattle police officers in 2016.

But then, a large group of people left downtown and started marching toward Interstate 5.

At first police cars blocked the marchers but around 3:50 p.m., southbound traffic on I-5 came to a standstill as thousands of people poured onto the road. Hundreds of protesters cheered from the overlooking bridges. Cars on the freeway, now parked, blared their horns. The crowd was on the road for about 45 minutes before police scared them away with rubber bullets.

caption: Activists laid down on I-5 and chanted, "I can't breathe" in honor of George Floyd on Saturday, May 30th, 2020.
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Activists laid down on I-5 and chanted, "I can't breathe" in honor of George Floyd on Saturday, May 30th, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

That’s when more explosions came from downtown. Groups of people running in all different directions, constant loud noises, and the police dispersing and arresting some protesters.

“Somebody in front of her pushed forward and all the police pushed back and then just started spraying pepper spray,” said a woman named Jennifer who was pouring milk into her friend's red eyes in front of Macy’s.

Jennifer had come prepared for violence from the police with a mask, goggles, and extra supplies "like baking soda and water spray ready,” she said.

caption: Protesters in Seattle on May 30 came prepared for police pepper spray by bringing medical supplies and milk.
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Protesters in Seattle on May 30 came prepared for police pepper spray by bringing medical supplies and milk.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Around 4:30 p.m. someone set a police cruiser on fire in front of Nordstrom’s. People gathered around the blaze and added wood pallets and other debris. As the night went on, at least three other police cars were set on fire.

Troopers from the Washington State Patrol arrived in armored trucks. By nightfall, people started smashing the windows of downtown businesses and breaking in. Retail stores were gutted, clothing strewn into the street. Sidewalks were covered in broken glass, garbage, and graffiti.

One man stood with a bat and pistol in front of the doorway to his apartment building to protect it.

“People don’t realize we live here,” he said.

Seattle Police said 57 protesters were arrested and multiple officers and people were injured on Saturday.

SUNDAY

Then on Sunday morning – other sounds came from downtown Seattle. More protesters gathered in Westlake singing “Lean On Me” and holding moments of silence.

Dozens of volunteers started cleaning up the streets from the night before. Oliver Issa came from Edmonds, and brought his three younger brothers.

“We just brought a bunch of brooms,” Issa said, “I went up and asked my mom I was like, ‘Mom, do you have any brooms?’ And she goes, ‘Oh I just bought these and now they're gonna be all dirty.’ But I was like ‘it’s for a good cause, you know?’”

caption: From left: Lad, Dorian, Quinten, and Oliver Issa joined dozens of volunteers to cleanup downtown on Sunday, May 31st, 2020.
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From left: Lad, Dorian, Quinten, and Oliver Issa joined dozens of volunteers to cleanup downtown on Sunday, May 31st, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Broken windows were boarded up, the spray paint washed away.

By Sunday afternoon the crowd of protestors began marching again. This time starting with a new chant: “Peaceful, peaceful.”

A small skirmish did break out and again flash bangs rang through the street. The smell of pepper spray again in the air. Police tried to disperse the crowd ahead of the five o’clock curfew on Sunday. A few dozen protesters remained in the street facing police for hours.

The activists who left said they plan to return to the street every day to protest violent actions by police.