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Opinion: Believe what you’re seeing — Seattle police are choosing violence

Protesters in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood on Monday night. (Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

Over the weekend, I argued that Seattle’s police had failed in its duty to peaceful protesters. On Monday night, we witnessed the continuation of that downward spiral.

On a day that saw city council members question SPD’s use of tear gas, mace, and flash bangs to disperse weekend crowds, video footage as clear as day showed us a repeat performance on Capitol Hill.

Police officers — fully decked out in battle-ready armor — made the claim that a “riot” was incited by protesters throwing “rocks, bottles, and fireworks.” But video taken both at the barricades and above the crowd show an incident that appeared to be escalated by the very people sworn to protect and serve Seattle residents.

Footage showed the escalation occurring when a cop snatched an umbrella from a protester, leading to a brief tug-of-war. That apparently threatened those same battle-ready officers so thoroughly, that they saw fit to douse what had largely been a peaceful crowd in mace.

A series of flash bangs ensued, the crowd scattered, and tear gas flooded a residential neighborhood in Seattle during a respiratory pandemic.

None of the videos from that pivotal series of events show rocks, bottles, or fireworks being thrown at police prior to the chaos instigated by officers at the barricades.

But purely for the sake of argument, let’s say that those objects were thrown before mace and tear gas were unleashed. And let’s say an officer wearing high-end military-grade riot gear truly did feel threatened by a rock.

What would be a proportional response to that? And more importantly, what do you think your duty as an officer would be once that object leaves the hand of a protester?

Is it to retaliate with a response that far exceeds the damage inflicted by a rock bouncing off of your heavily armored body? Or is to deescalate the situation and ensure that the protest can continue peacefully?

Lest we forget, the same people who were being tear-gassed and maced Monday night were there because they’re tired of a police department infamous for its disproportionate use of force against black men. They’re angry over the fact that the city’s black residents are more likely to be frisked by police, but less likely to have a weapon. And they’re fed up that despite those facts, the department’s main complaint in recent years is that it’s not appreciated enough.

Yet still, our president would have us believe that the goal for officers at these events should be “domination.” In a city that likes to tout its progressive values, Seattle’s police force appears to have taken that advice to heart.

Perhaps our mayor will go up to the podium today and deny that claim, and again insist that police officers were simply trying to keep the peace. My advice: Believe what you can plainly see for yourself.

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