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Police chief: Badge numbers will be ‘prominently displayed’

UPDATED: Thu., June 4, 2020

Demonstrators march toward Seattle City Hall Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis. (Elaine Thompson / associated press)
Demonstrators march toward Seattle City Hall Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis. (Elaine Thompson / associated press)
By Lisa Baumann Associated Press

SEATTLE – Police officers’ badge numbers will be “prominently displayed” following complaints by people protesting the death of George Floyd that black bands obscured the digits, Seattle’s police chief said Thursday.

Chief Carmen Best said officers sometimes wear bands over badges to honor colleagues who have been killed while on duty. Best said she would issue a directive ensuring the numbers are visible while also trying to find a way for police to mourn.

“We’ve heard people, we understand,“ Best said at a news conference Thursday with Mayor Jenny Durkan. It followed the first peaceful night of protests in the Northwest’s largest city since rallies began last week.

“It was a good night in the city,” Best said.

Durkan said authorities continue to speak to community leaders about ways to reduce tensions and improve communication and police policies. Durkan also said city officials are looking for ways to change policies set up long ago to keep officers from turning on their body-cameras during protests – a sore point for some protesters.

“When we come together and listen, we can move forward,” Durkan said.

Wednesday’s protests were among the largest Seattle has seen in years, but authorities reported no problems following days of unrest. Durkan abruptly ended a city-wide curfew Wednesday night in place for days amid the massive demonstrations over the death of Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.

Large groups of protesters remained in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood well after the abolished 9 p.m. curfew Wednesday. Demonstrators carried “Black Lives Matter” signs, called for cutting the police department’s budget and shifting the money to social programs, and chanted for officers to remove their riot gear.

The curfews in Seattle and other Washington cities had been sharply criticized by some elected officials, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the U.S. House member whose district includes Seattle, and the state’s lieutenant governor. Jayapal and Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib said in separate statements that curfews stifled free speech and were unconstitutional.

Habib tweeted that he was pleased Seattle had listened and reversed course.

“Preemptive curfews were only making things worse. Other cities should do likewise,” he posted.

After a weekend of chaos that saw police vehicles burned and stores ransacked, officers on Monday and Tuesday nights unleashed pepper spray, tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets to disperse crowds at times with little apparent provocation.

Black Lives Matter activist Asha Graves-Dixon of Seattle, who on Thursday was handing out coffee and snacks as protests continued in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, said she was there because “she’s fed up with the inequality of black and brown people and cops killing black people.”

When asked for her thoughts on the latest actions announced by city leaders, Graves-Dixon said, “That’s cool and all, but I’m not buying it.”

Also on Thursday, the largest labor union in Seattle demanded that the Seattle Police Officers Guild admit racism is a problem in law enforcement and agree to address it or face being thrown out of the umbrella organization.

The Martin Luther King County Labor Council also is putting pressure on Mayor Jenny Durkan to change her approach to protests against police killings of black people, The Seattle Times reported.

The group for more than 150 unions and 100,000 workers has supported the police union’s right to bargain against certain police accountability measures and endorsed the mayor in her 2017 campaign.

A resolution passed by the group’s executive board attributes policing problems to systemic racism rather than “bad apples” and calls on the union to acknowledge that – or else.

Police union president Mike Solan declined to comment to the newspaper on Thursday.

Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for several minutes, not lifting it after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air. That officer and three colleagues were fired and now face criminal charges in the death.

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