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Omari Salisbury
Credit: Courtesy of Omari Salisbury

'There's been a lot of gate keeping, but not enough bridge building'

For the sixth straight day, thousands of people were on the streets of Seattle to protest a long pattern of police violence against Black people.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Every day, Omari Salisbury has been documenting the Seattle protests, and live streaming many interactions between police and protesters. During one such incident Tuesday night, police used tear gas to disperse protesters on Capitol Hill.

“This is wild! So now at this point, though, this is what I want to point out, you see somebody still standing in the smoke. What I want to point out is the first time they came with this, they said someone threw some water. The last two times here, they now deploy tear gas on people who stood there with the hands up.”

Salisbury is a citizen journalist with Converge Media and Africatown. He says use of force by police has not been rare, necessary or proportional.

I was just on the city council meeting and some of the public comments of people who live on Capitol Hill, they're like, hey, man, they were at home minding their own business. They talked about how the gas had seeped into their house, and had all kinds of issues there.

But the thing is, it's not a proportional use of force. Last night, after they basically busted up the initial protest, when somebody threw the water bottle, then they cleared them, the protesters formed a line, they reconstituted a line three different times. They stood there saying "Hands up, don't shoot." Hands in the air, everything, and they still shot the gas three more times.

To me, it just seemed disproportional. And, they chased after them with the SWAT, the armored vehicles, and the state troopers, everything. It was, you know, the law enforcement that was in pursuit probably outnumbered the number of protesters.

I'm wondering if at any point over the last few nights, have you witnessed or filmed protesters attacking police in any way or using any other form of violence.

I've seen things go over the barricade, usually water bottles, because that's usually what people have out there is water bottles. What I've seen is a lot of the peaceful protests kind of have their own police.

There's people who definitely get up to the barricade, they're passionate. And then you'll find the protesters policing them. On Sunday night downtown, the organizers formed a line in front of the police. So you had the protesters, Seattle police, then the National Guard. People have kind of gone out of their way to keep things peaceful.

Now, it's impossible for me to say that nothing's been thrown ever. That would be disingenuous, because I haven't seen everything, but I haven't seen people physically with their own two fists, try to be violent with police officers. I have seen items thrown at the police over the barricade.

There have been thousands of people on the streets protesting peacefully, many more thousands and thousands of people watching from a distance. They've been watching these demonstrations unfold for hours. What is it that you want them to know to take away from what you've experienced?

What I want people to know, and especially people in Seattle, is the same thing that I just told the city council: Seattle needs to make a decision today of what kind of city is going to be. If Seattle’s going to be this hard line, law and order city, OK, so be it. And, a lot of these tactics should remain.

But, if this isn't the Seattle that people know, they need to do something about it here today, because now at this point, the story is going everywhere. These pictures from Seattle are going everywhere.

Right now, there's a vacuum in leadership at the street level. There's the elected officials, but on the street level where it's visible to protesters and everybody else, there's a vacuum out there. There's not enough people who have the credibility of people like protesters and credibility of the police to be able to come and bridge gaps.

There's been a lot of gate keeping, but not enough bridge building. Seattle as a city is going to have to figure it out real quick which direction it’s going to go, because the passion that I see and film out there in the streets isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

You can find Omari Salisbury’s streaming coverage of the protests at his Twitter page, @OmariSal.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says all allegations of police misconduct will be investigated by the civilian led Office of Police Accountability.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.