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Chief Carmen Best: Why SPD did not arrest traffic-snarling protesters

Protesters opposed to a youth jail block traffic during the Friday morning commute in Seattle. (SDOT)

Interim Police Chief Carmen Best is explaining to Seattle why protesters were not arrested March 2, despite shutting down traffic for hours amid the morning commute.

“I know I’m taking a lot of heat and criticism,” Best said at a community meeting Wednesday, March 7. “But as far as I’m concerned, at the end of the day … yes, people were inconvenienced, but nobody was arrested; nobody got hurt. We cleared everybody off of 5th Avenue. We made it known that if they’re not gone by three o’clock, you’re going to jail because, in fact, we can’t block off 5th Avenue in Friday rush hour.”

RELATED: Would King County’s sheriff make arrests if traffic is blocked?

Traffic, however, was snarled during the heavy morning commute. Best said the department was blindsided by the Friday morning protest. It began shortly before 8 a.m. Protesters used the “sleeping dragon” method, anchoring their arms inside tubing. It caused traffic to backup through the city’s roads and beyond. The disruption echoed onto I-5 and halted commutes throughout the region.

The seven protesters eventually moved their demonstration from 4th Avenue and James Street to 5th Avenue and Stewart Street. Best said that Seattle police helped facilitate that march through downtown, despite no permits issued for the protest.

“Ideally, we would love for people to get permits, and that process is there,” she said. “But, you know, they’re not required to … I’m just telling you what the courts have said. And people don’t get the permits. And nobody on May Day ever has a permit; we know they’re coming, right? … (police) still get out there and we still work the event regardless.”

“We assist people in their personal right to free speech,” Best said. “We swore to do that, actually … And nowhere in there does it say, ‘First Amendment right to free speech, except if it’s inconvenient … except if there’s a permit.’ That is just not the way it works.”

All protesters protected

Best said that this is the approach Seattle police take to all types of protests.

“I have stood, myself, right next to Westboro Baptists while they’re calling all sorts of things that you would be shocked to hear,” she said. “We’ve protected them, too. And the Patriot Prayer guys, we’ll protect them, too. And the Antifa guys. If they’re not being violent and causing destruction, we’ll protect them, too. We don’t need to pick and choose the issues, the date, or the time. That’s not our role. Our role is to make sure that people are able to express their personal free speech rights.”

Best’s comments came on the same day King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht spoke with KTTH’s Todd Herman about the incident. The sheriff leads a different jurisdiction, but her main office is in downtown Seattle. She said that if traffic becomes disrupted, she would make arrests.

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