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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Smaller, quieter protests in Spokane on Monday night after mayor enacts curfew, police put on high alert

UPDATED: Tue., June 2, 2020

By Jim Camden and Rebecca White

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward again enacted a curfew for downtown Spokane on Monday as large groups of protesters gathered and police in riot gear remained stationed throughout the city’s core.

But the gatherings were nowhere near as large as ones that led to numerous confrontations between protesters and police Sunday night, nor did they result in looting or widespread mayhem. Most of downtown had been cleared by 11 p.m. Spokane police Sgt. Terry Preuninger said no force was deployed, but a few people were arrested. No injuries were reported.

The order to empty downtown of people took hold at 8:15 p.m. and would last until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The new curfew order was in response to a group of about 70 people gathered near the Red Wagon in Riverfront Park, some of whom were “fighting amongst themselves” or throwing rocks at cars passing by on Spokane Falls Boulevard, according to Woodward.

“We are trying to prevent another night of what we saw last night, so our approach is a little bit different tonight,” Woodward said.

The curfew applied to an area from Division Street to Maple Street, and from Fifth Avenue to Boone Avenue.

Local law enforcement will be on high alert for the next few days in anticipation of possible violence or vandalism from groups that co-opted Sunday’s protest against police brutality.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he planned to press charges against those who were arrested for violence, looting and tagging the courthouse, and would do so again if they returned this week.

“Lawlessness will not be tolerated in Spokane County,” he said during a news conference Monday.

The National Guard, as well as law enforcement, will be on the courthouse complex campus this week in case there is another incident.

Enforcement began at about 2 p.m. Monday, Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said, when police made multiple arrests of people walking on city roads and yelling at motorists. They were charged with disorderly conduct, Meidl said.

Police “witnessed individuals putting on body armor with shields and baseball bats,” and another officer saw a person exit a vehicle wielding a machete, but Meidl did not specify if they were arrested or charged with crimes.

City spokesman Brian Coddington said they didn’t commit a crime and were not charged, but “that type of activity heightened the tension.”

Multiple fights occurred near the Red Wagon, along with “individuals with other countermeasures,” Meidl said, without providing specifics.

County Commissioner Al French said the county was committed to protecting the courthouse, which is one of the few historic courthouses in the state. He said the county was also committed to protecting citizens from those types of activities.

Meidl said the police department also anticipated some agitators might return and the department will have an increased police presence downtown to send them the message of “we are not going to do this again tonight.”

While law enforcement is on high alert, both Knezovich and Meidl said protesting is still allowed for those who want to continue.

“Come down and protest, follow the law and we will support you, we will protect you from anyone who wants to come down to try and disrupt that,” Meidl said. “Just don’t cross that line to breaking things or damaging cars that are driving by.”

French discouraged people from continuing to protest downtown, saying if another incident occurs, it will be difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between agitators and bystanders.

“Let the police officers and let the sheriff deputies protect the property, protect the lives of folks that have to be downtown, but please don’t come downtown,” he said. “You complicate the response for law enforcement agencies, when they have to try and separate those that are agitators from those that are spectators.”

Washington National Guard troops will also be available to local officials around the state as requested to help prevent violence and looting, although there are no plans to arm them at this point.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a statewide activation of the National Guard late Sunday as looting and violence spread to Spokane.

That brought 120 members of the Guard, primarily from the 141st Air Refueling Wing, onto the streets of Spokane on Sunday night to assist local law enforcement. Many remained at work throughout the night, although 50 were sent home at about 2 a.m. to rest in case they were needed Monday, said Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the Guard.

Some of them were later released as local officials determined they weren’t needed. Of the 600 Guard members who were activated for assistance in Seattle, Bellevue and Spokane on Sunday, about 300 remained on duty Monday afternoon, Adjutant Gen. Bret Daugherty said.

There were 16 members of the National Guard stationed around the Courthouse on Monday night.

At an afternoon news conference, Inslee and Daugherty stressed that at this point, Guard members being sent to assist local law enforcement efforts are unarmed.

“The members of the Guard are not an occupying force,” Inslee said.

“We always arm ourselves to the level of the threat,” Daugherty said. The criminal activity of vandalism and looting “is not deserving of deadly force,” he added.

Civilians should also not come to protests armed, because it increases the risk of an accidental shooting, Daugherty added.

“The police have got the weapons … they’re the right people to have the weapons,” he said. “Everybody just calm down, leave your weapons at home.”

Shortly after Inslee’s news conference, President Donald Trump said he was moving to restore “law and order” in the wake of looting and violence that followed peaceful protests around the country over the weekend. If governors can’t do it, Trump said he would call out the military to accomplish that goal.

As Trump spoke, Washington, D.C., police apparently augmented by armed military police, began breaking up a protest across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in Lafayette Park, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.

During a telephone call with other governors earlier Monday, Trump accused some governors of being “weak” for not deploying armed Guardsmen to put down riots and looting in their states. Inslee had earlier in the news conference choked up with emotion when recalling Robert Kennedy’s words to calm a crowd of Black Americans after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968.

The country didn’t need division, hatred or lawlessness, Inslee recalled Kennedy saying in the speech but love, wisdom and compassion toward one another.

“Leadership looks like Robert Kennedy and his comments, and I have to say the comments by the president have not been in that vein,” Inslee said. “They have been rooted in a desire to fan the flames of division rather than to call us to a higher purpose. … I think they are more like rants of a very insecure man than a person asking us to find the better angels of our nature.”

Asked if he had said that to Trump during the teleconference, Inslee said he did not think that would be productive.

Trump’s announcement won’t change the state’s plans for dealing with any violence from protesting, Inslee’s office said after the president’s speech.

The governor “has extended the order for the National Guard to be available all over the state to communities who ask for it,” Tara Lee, Inslee’s communications director, said. “That is how we are operating.”

During an interview Monday morning, County Commissioner Al French said commissioners requested assistance from the governor’s office Sunday after commissioners heard that the courthouse and public safety building could become a target.

“We’re anticipating days of protest and plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

French acknowledged that the Sunday afternoon protest, which focused on the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody, was peaceful and said the Guard was called in to assist with handling violent groups that damaged businesses.

The statewide activation will allow troops to respond to requests from local governments. But it is not a call up of the entire 8,000 members of the Army and Air Guard units in Washington, Shagren said. The Guard already has some 1,300 members activated for help with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Washington residents are “reasonably and justifiably outraged” by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 and have a constitutional right to protest as they seek justice, Inslee said. But violence and destruction is not constitutionally protected, he added, and needs to be condemned and prosecuted..

“We will not allow that (destruction) to obscure the justice of the underlying protest,” he said. “We just can’t allow violence to hijack peaceful protest.”

The protests go deeper than the killing of Floyd to what Inslee called longstanding, underlying needs of the Black community and other minorities. The state has made some progress in addressing those needs with a program for long-term care, a higher minimum wage, family and medical leave, expanded health care and aid to college.

The Legislature will have a chance to continue further “steps on the road to justice” when it returns for a likely special session to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“Whenever they get back into session, this is going to be a high priority, as it has been for some time,” he said. But social services are a concern because the state has a $6.5 billion hole in its budget and “we need to be as effective as possible to maintain these vital services.”

With contributions from S-R reporter Adam Shanks

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