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Seattle, Converge Media marks one year since historic 2020 protests

Demonstrators face off with law enforcement personnel near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct on June 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Tear gas, blast balls, and pepper spray. Rocks, bottles, and fireworks. Politics, misinformation, and busted windows. Curfews, bullets, and chaos. Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and hate.

Depending on who you ask, those are the types of impressions you’ll hear the average casual observer give about Seattle protests in 2020. But that barely skims the surface of what happened and why.

It’s a big topic to dig into, and the local independent journalist team that caught all of it will be back on Capitol Hill this week broadcasting live to do just that, and to help those who care reflect on what happened one year ago.

“A lot of stuff is still raw, but it’s good for introspective to see what we went through as a city and how we emerged, or even have we emerged,” explained Omari Salisbury of Converge Media.

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Salibury, along with his Morning Update Show team, will broadcast live at 11 a.m. every day this week from Capitol Hill, just as he did for weeks one year ago, live streaming every moment of Seattle’s historic protests.

Salisbury had just launched the show a few months before the protests started as a daily COVID-19 briefing meant to keep his neighborhood in the Central District informed with facts about the pandemic.

But on May 29, he decided to go check out a protest over George Floyd’s death in Seattle’s International District that got out of hand. A day later, he was in the downtown core when a protest turned riot left stores gutted and businesses in shambles while the streets were littered with torched police vehicles, empty tear gas canisters, and blast ball debris. Two days later, as he was streaming live from within a massive march of thousands that had made its way to Capitol Hill, he caught the infamous pink umbrella incident live, which later went viral around the globe.

Salisbury and team were broadcasting when Summer Taylor was hit and killed, along with another protester hit on I-5 on July 5 by what would turn out to be a driver under the influence who had driven onto the closed freeway. Converge Media later nearly caught the murder of 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson, whose death was the spark that finally led the city and Seattle Police Department to take back the East Precinct and shut down CHAZ/CHOP, which had taken over six blocks of Capitol Hill for weeks.

The team was out streaming every night and talking to people on any side of the issues: Seattle Police, Mayor Jenny Durkan, armed “Patriots,” protesters, concerned business owners, residents, and tourists who came to see what at one point had been likened to a “Summer of Love” by Mayor Durkan. They also hosted special community conversations about the art that was such a huge part of the CHOP story. And, three days after the CHOP was cleared, they were quick to realize how critical it was to have a conversation about the mental health impact.

“I don’t think that we’re far enough removed from the experience at Converge because we’ve stayed on top of these issues consistently,” Salisbury said. “We didn’t stop reporting once the protests had died down or CHOP was cleared. We stayed on top of these issues, a lot of the issues that people got into the street about.”

And he points out that the Converge team is in a unique position as members of Seattle’s Black community from the Central District.

“Definitely in a unique position because, even in going home, or to the neighborhood, going to the corner store, to the restaurant, the conversations about what was happening continue,” Salisbury said. “There is no off switch, so to speak, and these conversations are very much paramount — not only in my own neighborhood, the Central District, but also South Seattle, South King County. I mean, ideally, in our region as a whole, people have some concern, but definitely in our neighborhood, this has been a continuous ongoing conversation.”

As far as reflecting on the protests one year later, Salisbury says this week of broadcasting from the protest site will be an opportunity for everyone to have a voice, regardless of where they stood on the protests, in an effort to dig in and get the full story.

“There were some very amazing moments with Seattle protests, and I think that anybody, especially people in media, or politicians who just want to sum everything up either way on this in one or two words or anything, then, you know, they’re not sincere. There was so many, just different dynamic levels of it. I mean, we saw tens of thousands of people,” Salisbury recalled.

Those who want to sum up Seattle protests 2020 by only looking at Capitol Hill are missing a lot, he said.

“South Seattle, you saw tens of thousands of people come out there, in the Central District of Seattle — 23rd, Jackson — almost every weekend, thousands of people were coming out,” he said. “And there was never any political anybody, anywhere around these things. These events are people making their voices heard. And in Seattle, as we often do, we don’t tell the whole story, and people will just focus in on Capitol Hill. And of course, there was big international news making there. But it’s a disservice to literally tens of thousands of people across the city, people who went to the streets in North Seattle, and in West Seattle, and in South Seattle.”

“You can’t tell the story of the Seattle protests without talking about that,” he said.

Beyond the usual narrative you hear about the violence, destruction, over-reaction by police – whatever it is – Salisbury stresses there were really tremendous moments of people coming together.

“Of course, there were lots of negative moments as well. But I think the best way to look back at the Seattle protests is comprehensively and in totality,” Salisbury stressed. “Let’s not just pick and choose the things that feed our narrative, whether it be all the way to the left or all the way to the right. Our city deserves the truth. Our city deserves people who are responsible, responsible people in the media, our elected officials, our community leaders, you’re responsible to tell the whole story or don’t tell it at all.”

One of the amazing moments for Salisbury was early on when his son was visiting from college (where he’s majoring in broadcasting).

“This kid, he was so concerned about my safety, and I was so concerned about his, but imagine, to be out there in a journalistic capacity, on such an important story that’s impacted our city and our region, that’s definitely going to be part of Seattle history, and to have my son right there by my side, helping out the whole way and adding into the reporting, and to the capturing of content and everything else,” Salisbury recalled. “I would say if I look back that that was definitely a highlight to me.”

Salisbury says the different people Converge Media interviewed also made an impact during CHOP, where he came across people from France, Turkey, and the organizers of Occupy Wall Street.

“We also interviewed a bunch of Proud Boys and White Nationalists, and Neo-Nationalists who also came in, who weren’t from the area. So it was a lot of different people who came in to Seattle, and particularly up there in the CHOP area,” he said.

“This was really an international and definitely a national thing. People were coming in from all over the world, all over the country, into the CHOP, pushing their ideology. We saw left, we saw right, and then we saw a lot of people who were indifferent but just came to be part of something,” Salisbury said.

He hopes to hear from just as many diverse voices this week, extending an open invitation to all who want to swing by the broadcast up on the streets of Capitol Hill – again – regardless of where you stand on the protests.

“It’s about reflection,” Salisbury said.

“Especially if they’re from the Capitol Hill area, or if they make their way up to Capitol Hill, we want to hear from people up there on the hill who are impacted by the protests, positive or negative. We want to have a mix of people on the show, their different experiences. Some people were like, ‘this was great,’ but some people were like ‘these people drove down my rent, my business was closed.’”

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For some of those most involved in the early demonstrations one year ago, the anniversary is an emotional moment, so Salisbury is hoping the week-long reflection can lead to some healing – and that includes healing for himself and his team.

“I would be lying to say that, not even just me, but our whole Converge team. Definitely. We bear the scars, emotionally and physically, from the Seattle protest. We bore witness to a lot of things in real time and it still impacts us,” Salisbury said. “That’s why looking back one year later is still very raw to us. We’ve really never stopped. A lot of us never had an opportunity to really deal with a lot of these issues, and emotions, and traumas, and everything else.”

Salisbury and the Converge Media team will be back on Capitol Hill starting at 11 a.m. Monday with a long list of guests, including yours truly, as we look back and reflect on the historic Seattle protests.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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