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'Stay in the Streets': Black Lives Matter Movement in Seattle Occupies Six Block 'Autonomous Zone' and Floods City Hall

"We cannot have a pacified movement."

Demonstrators march to the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct after marching inside Seattle City Hall on June 9, 2020. (Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images)

Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Seattle flooded City Hall Tuesday night for an evening of speeches and protest as the movement took over a six block area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and issued a list of demands to city government in an ongoing uprising that appears nowhere near over.

"We cannot have a pacified movement," activist Nikkita Oliver said Tuesday in a speech to the so-called "autonomous zone" likening the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers last month to the Civil Rights Movement.

Protesters, led by council member Kshama Sawant, filled City Hall Tuesday night. Chanting "Black Lives Matter," demonstrators heard speeches and conversations between organizers.

In a speech to the crowd, Sawant emphasized that the movement must concentrate on its political power and how to win concessions from the city.

"Alongside inspiration, we need to be sober," said Sawant. "We are not going to win any of our demands and it's pointless making lists and lists of demands unless we have a way to win any of them. And winning those demands needs a clarity about who's on our side and who's not."

But Sawant's own ambitions came under fire from the next speaker, Moe'Neyah Dene Holland, who chided the council member for "using Black Lives Matter for your political campaigns," such as forcing Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign and levying a tax on Amazon.

"I want to do all of these things too," said Holland, "but can we please talk about Black Lives Matter for one second?"

In its list of demands, the "Free Capitol Hill" group calls for police abolition, racial parity in the city's economy, and changes to Seattle's health and education sectors.

"This is no simple request to end police brutality," the demand list reads.

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"This document is to represent the black voices who spoke in victory at the top of 12th & Pine after 9 days of peaceful protest while under constant nightly attack from the Seattle Police Department," the document continues. "These are words from that night, June 8th, 2020."

The six block area is being staffed by movement volunteers who have insisted that demonstrators respect the infrastructure, including the abandoned East Precinct building.

"If you see someone doing some bullshit, say something about them doing some bullshit," a speaker at the zone told the crowd on Monday night. "My body is fucked up right now, and I'll be damned if that shit is wasted."

As the Seattle Times reported:

In a dramatic shift in tactics Monday afternoon, the Police Department boarded up and barricaded its East Precinct and then abandoned the surrounding streetscape to protesters. The night passed peacefully.

[...]

[Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey] Nyland described the decision to withdraw from the East Precinct area Monday night as "an important step in the city's efforts to lead with de-escalation and begin to rebuild community trust."

On Sunday, police fired tear gas into crowds of protesters. As Common Dreams reported, the attacks sparked outrage from city council members and protesters, coming two days after Mayor Durkan promised a 30-day ban on the chemical weapons. 

Protesters and the ACLU have responded to the police attacks by suing the city and police department for the nightly use of "excessive force against protesters, legal observers, journalists, and medical personnel."

"We will not let these violent attacks on our constitutional rights go unchecked," said ACLU staff attorney Vera Eidelman on Tuesday. "Police cannot respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality."

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