Thursday 6th May 2021

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  • Police declare riot at Seattle protests, make arrests

    Police declare riot at Seattle protests, make arrests

    A large group of United States protesters was marching on Saturday in Seattle in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality and racial injustice [Ted S Warren/AP]

    The United States city of Seattle has declared a riot following large demonstrations in its Capitol Hill neighbourhood, and police have deployed flash bangs and pepper spray to try to clear a weeks-olds “occupied protest zone” that stretches for several blocks.

    Via Twitter, police said they had made at least 11 arrests and were investigating “possible explosive damage” to the walls of the city’s East Precinct police station on Saturday.

    Authorities said rocks, bottles and mortars were thrown at officers as they attempted to clear the area. One officer was hospitalised with a leg injury caused by an explosive.

    Earlier, protesters in Seattle broke through a fence where a youth detention facility was being built, with some people setting a fire and damaging a portable trailer, authorities said.

    Thousands of protesters had initially gathered peacefully near downtown Seattle on Saturday in a show of solidarity with fellow demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, where tensions with federal law enforcement have boiled over during protests stemming from the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    Initially, there was no sign of law enforcement near the Seattle march.

    Later, Seattle Police said via Twitter that about a dozen people breached the construction site for the King County youth detention facility. Also, police said protesters broke windows at a King County court facility.

    Controversy over use of tear gas

    Earlier this week, King County Executive Dow Constantine, in response to long-standing demands by community activists, said he would work to eliminate youth detention centres in the county by 2025.

    After the fire at the construction site, authorities said they had ordered people to leave a different area, in a section of Capitol Hill, near downtown, where the East Precinct is.

    Earlier this month, police cleared the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” zone after two fatal shootings.

    A group had occupied several blocks around a park for about two weeks following standoffs and clashes that were part of the nationwide unrest over the killing of Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody.

    Prior to Saturday’s protests, Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Carmen Best had announced officers would be armed with pepper spray and other weapons, promising officers would not use tear gas and urging demonstrators to remain peaceful.

    “In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence,” Best said.

    At an emergency hearing on Friday night, US District Judge James Robart granted a request from the federal government to block Seattle’s new law prohibiting police from using pepper spray, blast balls and similar weapons.

    The temporary restraining order puts a hold on the law that the Seattle City Council passed unanimously last month after confrontations that have largely been peaceful but were occasionally marked by violence, looting and highway shutdowns.

    The law, intended to de-escalate tensions between police and demonstrators, was set to take effect on Sunday.

    But the US Department of Justice, citing Seattle’s longstanding police consent decree, successfully argued that banning the use of crowd control weapons could actually lead to more police use of force, only leaving them with more deadly weapons.

    Meanwhile, a group of heavily armed Black protesters marched through Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in March by police officers who burst into her apartment.

    Scores of the demonstrators, carrying semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and clad in black paramilitary gear, walked in formation to a fenced off intersection where they were separated by police from a smaller group of armed counter-protesters.

    The Black militia dubbed NFAC want justice for Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who died in a hail of gunfire when drug investigators bearing a “no-knock” warrant entered her Louisville home four months ago.

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