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Raucous protests in Northwest lead to curfew for Seattle

UPDATED: Sat., May 30, 2020

Police officers walk enveloped by tear gas Friday night in Portland. After hours of largely peaceful demonstrations, violence escalated late Friday in downtown, as hundreds of people gathered to protest the Minneapolis police killing of a Black man, George Floyd. (Dave Killen / Associated Press)
Police officers walk enveloped by tear gas Friday night in Portland. After hours of largely peaceful demonstrations, violence escalated late Friday in downtown, as hundreds of people gathered to protest the Minneapolis police killing of a Black man, George Floyd. (Dave Killen / Associated Press)
By Andrew Selsky and Lisa Baumann Associated Press

SEATTLE – Seattle Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a 5 p.m. curfew for the entire city Saturday following rowdy protests that spilled onto Interstate 5, forcing the freeway’s closure through the central part of the Northwest’s largest city.

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Seattle to protest the killing of George Floyd, and a largely peaceful gathering turned rowdier Saturday afternoon, with police deploying flash bangs to disperse crowds. Police also pepper-sprayed some demonstrators who got close to police lines, and officers on bicycles pushed back several protesters.

The Washington State Patrol closed both directions of Interstate 5 through the city between Interstate 90 and Highway 520. Protesters marched through the lanes of the freeway.

“The freeway is not a safe or appropriate place for demonstration,” state patrol Chief John Batiste said in a statement.

News footage showed at least one destroyed police cruiser.

A police spokeswoman, Sgt. Lauren Truscott, said some people were arrested, though she didn’t have an exact figure.

Durkan hastily announced a curfew to begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and to last through 5 a.m. in response to the protests.

Residents should remain in their homes “to the extent possible” and not travel in or through Seattle, said Durkan, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Seattle Fire Department Chief Harold Scoggins in a statement released about 4:45 p.m.

“This curfew is intended to prevent violence and widespread property damage, and to prevent the further community spread of COVID-19 through continued gathering,” they said.

The tense scenes in Seattle followed a violent night in Portland, Oregon, where authorities said those responsible for the damage to police headquarters, a shopping mall and many businesses will be tracked down.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also imposed a state of emergency and a curfew, which was to resume Saturday at 8 p.m. and lift at 6 a.m. Sunday.

Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone, who is African American, said the anger and violence is not only about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but a system that allows people of color to “feel fear every day.“

“This is a moment of reckoning,” Boone said at a news conference with other city leaders. “We are going forward, together, to create an actual community where respect and dignity are our core values.”

Jo Ann Hardesty, an African American member of the City Council, said those responsible for the looting and burning were a small group of people who took the opportunity of earlier peaceful protests – that police had largely stayed away from – “to steal stuff and break stuff.”

“We can get justice for black people, but we don’t have to destroy our community to do it,” Hardesty said. She offered to help identify rioters from video images so they could be arrested and prosecuted.

In the past, Portland has seen numerous violent protests, often between far-right demonstrators and those opposed to them. Community activists have told police their heavy presence can be a trigger for violence. Their presence was light as peaceful protests started Friday.

The People of Color Caucus of the Oregon Legislature called the rioters opportunists and outliers who were disregarding the leadership of black community organizers. At one point, black community members placed themselves between a business and vandals to protect it from being destroyed, they said.

“We are just beginning to lay plans to reopen and these actions are destructive to our efforts as we try to weave together what COVID-19 has already torn apart,” the nine lawmakers said.

A man in a car was grazed by a bullet, believed to have been fired by a protester, and he was treated and released from a hospital, police said.

“No one could have predicted what we saw last night,” Acting Police Chief Chris Davis said at the news conference. “It’s extremely difficult to predict where we’re going to have this kind of violence.”

Two police officers were injured by a thrown incendiary device and a rock.

Blazes continued to burn early Saturday morning in multiple locations downtown – including a building that housed a bank – and broken glass littered the streets.

Portland police arrested at least 13 people before dawn Saturday. Seattle police were reviewing the use of force in one of at least seven arrests Friday night.

Durkan and Best told a Friday evening news conference they were outraged by the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck. They also implored protesters to be peaceful

Durkan said the killing reflects the “deep and systemic racism” in the United States.

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