Washington State Police Target Black March Organizers With Arrests
Above photo: Washington State Patrol approaches the lead protest vehicle. Nathalie Graham.
On Friday morning the Washington State Patrol (WSP) arrested nine people on suspicion of disorderly conduct during a protest that shut down the southbound lanes of I-5, congested Seattle streets, and backed up traffic to Bellevue.
Marchers say they block traffic to disrupt people living their day-to-day lives, and to bring the Black Lives Matter protest to where those people are.
Last week Morning Marchers shut down the Ballard Bridge. Yesterday, they shut down the southbound lanes on State Route Highway 99. In this latest demonstration, a team drove cars onto I-5, slowly merged across all lanes, and then came to a stop on the road.
Today wasn’t meant to be “spicy,” like the Ballard Bridge or the SR 99 shutdown, Elisha Ewing, 23, an organizer with the protest told me.
The group gathered around 8:00 a.m. this morning in the shadow of the Center for Wooden Boats at South Lake Union Park. Seattle Police Department officers showed up even earlier to keep tabs on the march. Protesters formed the plan throughout the morning. If the march’s car brigade (what Ewing calls the “car chrysalis,” since it’s meant to protect the protesters) could evade the SPD, the march would shut down I-5.
After ducking and weaving through South Lake Union and Eastlake, the cars made it onto I-5 from the University District entrance on 45th Avenue Northeast. Once they stopped traffic, protesters exited the cars, signs in tow.
In front of the protesters was a wide open Ship Canal Bridge. Behind them, traffic started stacking up. For just over 20 minutes, around 40 protesters stalled traffic and spoke to the people in their cars about the racist history of the Seattle Police Department. An SPD patrol car was in the mix.
The protest parted to allow a woman to get through so she could take her dad to his radiation treatment. Some frustrated teens caught up in the traffic on their way to a shop on Capitol Hill grumbled about the delay, a woman visiting from Idaho felt like she was getting a real taste of Seattle, and a man going to play soccer was pissed.
Phillip Aaron, 75, a civil rights lawyer stood outside of his car watching the protest, his gloved hands gripping his cane. He’s in the middle of representing a Chicago family whose 18-year-old son was shot in the back three times, Aaron told me. He’s tired of seeing Black people killed by police.
“I’m with them 1,000 percent,” Aaron said in the middle of the freeway. He had just come from a funeral. “[The protesters] need to make it uncomfortable for everybody. I respect them. That’s a lot of courage. These are beautiful people.”
Soon after, the protesters packed up and rolled out. The demonstration was over.
Freeman, 26, drove the car I was in. Katie Neuner, 25, sat in the passenger seat. Both are Black. A marcher named Erica in her late 20s sat next to me in the back. As we crested the slight incline of the Ship Canal Bridge, Neuner, dressed in effervescent green pants, euphorically climbed up through the sunroof to look at the traffic snaking behind the march. And then we saw the blockade of WSP vehicles. Neuner sat back down. Freeman slowed, driving toward the shoulder.
WSP troopers approached the car and told Freeman to step out of the vehicle. One said he was under arrest for obstructing traffic. Passengers were free to leave and exit the freeway, troopers said.
Freeman refused to exit the car. Four troopers, who were were not wearing masks, reached for him. Erica, a white woman, pushed her way between them, yelling. One trooper slammed his palm into Erica’s face, pushing her back. The troopers wrestled Freeman out of the car. Neuner jumped out of the car, screaming for them to stop. Erica grabbed one of the march’s walkie talkies before a trooper could confiscate it. The trooper arrested her.
State patrol is here: pic.twitter.com/2IL4As2L9E
— nathalie graham (@gramsofgnats) September 4, 2020
WSP arrested every Morning Marcher they could identify, and they impounded all the arrested drivers’ vehicles. At least two white women who drove as part of the protest this morning avoided arrest. They told me they were not even stopped.
After the arrests, Marchers regrouped on the side of I-5 on Eastlake Boulevard. At least 12 WSP cars arrived on the scene with multiple tow trucks. Traffic remained stalled significantly longer than protesters planned due to the WSP response. One officer said the response was proportional because “people get killed when you block the freeway.” He may have been referencing Summer Taylor. Taylor was killed on July 4 when a driver plowed into a group of protesters on I-5.
Because police arrested these protesters on a Friday, other marchers fear they won’t be released from jail until after Labor Day. However, the arrests will not deter the march from happening every day, according to Ewing.
“They got some of our people, our cars, our property,” Ewing said, “But we’ll be back at it. I’m literally breathing right now, and that’s protesting.”