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New lawsuit alleges SPD is forcing ‘de facto protest tax’ with use of crowd control weapons

Police pepper spray protesters Saturday, July 25, 2020, near Seattle Central Community College in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A new lawsuit filed against the City of Seattle alleges that demonstrators are being subject to a “de facto protest tax” due to “unabated violence” by police officers at recent protests.

Seattle ban on crowd control weapons violated consent decree, says DOJ

The lawsuit, filed by five protesters, argues that the level of violence enacted by officers forces demonstrators to “purchase cost-prohibitive gear to withstand munitions — even when peacefully protesting.”

It also asks for an injunction against the use of crowd control weapons, claiming that police “have shown they are incapable of voluntarily stopping the use of excessive force against protesters that has caused serious injury and risks more.” Plaintiffs say that they are “likely to suffer irreparable harm” without an injunction.

Officers and protesters have clashed on and off since late May, most recently a little over a week ago when police declared a riot after several businesses were damaged, and a construction trailer at the site of a new youth jail in Seattle was set on fire.

In late May, Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best announced a 30-day pause on the use of tear gas at protests, before deploying it during a demonstration on Capitol Hill just two days later.

The department is also already operating under a temporary restraining order restricting its use of weapons like tear gas, flash bangs, and more, albeit with several exceptions built in, allowing the use of those weapons provided it’s part of a “reasonable, proportional, and targeted action to protect against a specific imminent threat of physical harm … or to respond to specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”

ACLU files lawsuit against City of Seattle over police violence at protests

A separate law passed by city council would have banned the use, storage, and purchase of crowd control weapons by SPD, before U.S. District Judge James Robart temporarily stopped it from going into effect, citing a possible violation of the city’s ongoing consent decree.

The ACLU and Black Lives Matter King County-Seattle have a separate lawsuit scheduled to be heard in August, and recently asked a U.S. District Judge to find the city in contempt for using crowd control weapons despite the temporary restraining order.

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