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ACLU files second contempt motion against Seattle over SPD protest response

Demonstrators fill an intersection near Seattle Central College during protests on July 26, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

For the second time in months, the ACLU of Washington has filed a contempt motion against the Seattle Police Department’s crowd control tactics in ongoing protests. It states that SPD tactics continue to violate preliminary injunctions issued in the Black Lives Matter lawsuit against the city over crowd control weapons.

The motion focuses on four main themes of SPD tactics over the past month.

“One is using these less lethal weapons to reroute a protest or force protesters to move back faster, another is using them without any warning or giving protesters a reasonable opportunity to disperse – SPD we’ve actually seen them interfering with attempts to disperse cutting off access to side streets so people can’t leave,” said ACLU’s Molly Tack Hooper.

“Indiscriminate and excessive use of handheld pepper spray — so just drenching people in a long line not because those individuals pose any particular threat, but just because they happen to be there,” Hooper said. “We’ve seen them spraying people with so much pepper spray that they are coated orange and begin vomiting. And indiscriminate use of explosives. Throwing things that explode into the middle of a crowd, almost always a retreating crowd, those are really the patterns.”

They point to four particular protests, including one in late August outside the Washington State Patrol offices in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, and three others in September, including two in the past week.

Earlier this year, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County sued the city for violating protesters’ rights in the SPD’s use of crowd control weapons. That eventually led to a preliminary injunction, then a clarified preliminary injunction in a settlement with the city last month when Seattle agreed to make some changes.

The problem, according to Hooper, is that those agreed upon changes are not at all what is happening, not just in these four protests, but as a near nightly occurrence. They want the judge to offer clarity and the city to show what it has done to ensure every Seattle police officer is aware of the rules of engagement with protesters.

“It does seem to have gone downhill,” Hooper said. “The city agreed to some additional language that we hoped would prevent that kind of thing from happening again, the additional language clarified that SPD can’t just declare a riot or an unlawful assembly, and then start using these weapons willy-nilly. That they can’t use them to reroute a protest unless it’s necessary to prevent a specific, imminent threat. And what we’ve seen since then is just not consistent, even with those new terms that we were hoping would clarify the June order.”

“We felt we couldn’t wait any longer to go back to our judge to talk about these patterns,” Hooper added.

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