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Washington State Patrol says it hasn’t ‘surrendered’ I-5 to protesters

Healthcare workers and others march to Seattle City Hall during the Doctors For Justice event on June 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Why is the Washington State Patrol allowing protesters onto I-5 in Seattle and closing the freeway for their protection?

Washington State Patrol plans to keep shutting down I-5 for protests

To understand why the State Patrol has taken this action, you must understand that this is a unique time, and it requires some unique and thoughtful solutions.

That’s the mantra behind the change in State Patrol tactics. In the past, troopers would go all-in to remove anyone who blocked the freeway, but that tactic probably isn’t the best idea right now.

What do the protesters that take I-5 want? Perhaps they want to provoke a response from the police to further demonstrate that the police go too far. Why not just avoid that conflict in the first place?

“We’ve seen a match lit,” the State Patrol’s Chris Loftis said. “When the match is lit and the fire is burning, you have to think through what is the best thing to do right now, in this moment, to keep people as safe as they possibly can.”

The safest move is to close the freeway, preventing troopers from interacting with protesters and keeping cars from interacting with protesters.

“Not only is that a safer situation where you don’t have pedestrians and cars interacting, but it seems to shorten the duration of the protest event,” Loftis said.

When the protesters realize they aren’t going to get the response from troopers that they want, they move on. It’s no fun to take a freeway and not actually block anyone.

“I don’t think we’ve surrendered the interstate,” Loftis continued. “What we’ve done is recognize that we’re in a unique environment.”

And State Patrol understands. It knows that being stuck in a sudden freeway closure because of people breaking the law is not fun. This is not what you probably want the response to be. Most people see blocking the freeway as something the State Patrol should not allow, and Loftis realizes that.

“Right now, we’re going to have to need to accept a level of inconvenience,” he said. “We’re going to have to accept a sometimes maddeningly unsatisfactory environment. We’re going to have to accept those things to keep things as safe as possible.”

Seattle City Attorney says he will not file charges against peaceful protesters

State Patrol views shutting the freeway down as the lessor of two evils, as unsatisfactory of an answer as that might be, because the alternative would not be helpful right now.

“If we’re going to try and stop 200 people from moving onto that freeway, that’s going to be a significant demonstration of force,” Loftis said.

And now that tear gas and pepper spray has been banned from WSP, troopers would have to be far more hands-on.

“If we go hands-on with 200 people, people are going to be hurt,” he said. “Protesters, bystanders, peaceful protesters, non-peaceful protesters and law enforcement themselves.”

WSP doesn’t want that.

Loftis said drivers need to be prepared that I-5 through downtown can be shut down at any time right now. It’s the safest option for troopers, protesters and drivers, and it prevents another flashpoint between protesters and police that could re-ignite more violence.

The troopers also can’t just arrest 200 people, even if they are breaking the law by trespassing on the freeway. The pandemic has made it nearly impossible to process and jail that many people and maintain the social distancing protocols.

I know this isn’t the answer you want, but at least you can now understand why the State Patrol is doing what it’s doing and why it changed its tactics.

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