Seattle/Portland – Thousands of people marched in Seattle on Saturday in the largest Black Lives Matter demonstration in weeks, with a renewed energy sparked by violent clashes between activists and federal agents in nearby Portland.
Police said officers used nonlethal weapons in attempts to disperse the crowd in the late afternoon after some protesters set fire to the construction site for a King County juvenile detention facility and courthouse. Seattle Police said on Twitter they were working to secure access for the city’s fire department to the blaze, which it said was started by about a dozen people who were part of a large group of demonstrators.
By late afternoon, the police said 11 people had been arrested and one officer was hospitalized with a leg injury caused by an explosive.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he expanded the deployment of federal police to Seattle, enraging local officials and igniting anger among protesters.
“We saw what was happening in Portland and we wanted to make sure in our city we were standing in solidarity with other moms,” said Lhorna Murray, who attended on behalf of the newly formed Wall of Moms Seattle, replicating a tactic from the Portland protests where mothers dressed in yellow form a human wall between protesters and law enforcement.
The heavy handed tactics of federal officers in Portland have drawn the ire of local leaders and Democrats in Congress, who say those officers are using excessive force and complain of overreach by the Trump administration.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Brian Moran said in a statement on Friday that federal agents are stationed in Seattle to protect federal properties and the work done in those buildings.
The Trump administration has also sent federal police to Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque over the objections of those mayors.
In Portland, police and federal agents fired tear gas and forcefully dispersed protesters early Saturday.
Friday’s demonstration was mainly peaceful, with crowds playing music and dancing, blowing soap bubbles and setting off fireworks. But it ended — like many before it — in a showdown between protesters and police, which escalated in a haze of tear gas and flash-bang devices.
One group of protesters formed a line with umbrellas and makeshift shields to try to protect themselves, as at least two fires burned outside the fences around a federal courthouse.
Tear gas was first fired around 11 p.m. By 2:30 a.m. police and federal agents were clearing the scene outside the courthouse with tear gas, pushing protesters back.
Earlier, protesters complained of the federal agents’ presence in the city and voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I don’t like what’s happening down here, what Trump is doing,” Mike Shikany, a 55-year-old aerospace engineer, said, adding he did not “want to get anywhere near the little green men,” meaning the federal troops.
Portland retiree Jean Mullen, 74, said that without pressure nothing would change.
“It’s time to become the country we always brag about being. And we can’t brag anymore, about anything. We aren’t first in anything and it’s a terrible, terrible thing to see at the end of my life,” she said.
The inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday opened an official investigation into the federal crackdown, but a federal judge in Oregon on Friday rejected a legal bid by the state to stop agents from detaining protesters.
The city’s Democratic mayor Ted Wheeler has accused federal officers of triggering a dangerous escalation of the situation with abusive and unconstitutional tactics.
As he met with protesters on Wednesday, Wheeler himself was hit by tear gas, an incident he described as “flat-out urban warfare.”
Trump, who is campaigning for re-election in November on “law and order,” announced on Wednesday a “surge” of federal agents to crime hot spots including Chicago, following an increase in violence in the nation’s third-largest city.
Federal agents deployed there will partner with local law enforcement, not riot control forces as seen in Portland.
Local officials have warned they would draw the line at any Portland-style deployment.