Mayor Durkan and the Seattle police deny free speech rights of human rights defenders opposing white supremacy and bigotry

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Statement to the media delivered at a news conference at Seattle City Hall by Annaliza Torres

The Freedom Socialist Party joins with other community organizations today, on International Human Rights Day, to call on Mayor Durkan and the Seattle Police Department to stop violating the free speech of those who are attempting to confront rising white supremacy in our region.

On Saturday, December 1 the police closed down sidewalks in downtown Seattle to prevent counter-protesters from voicing their opposition to a rally sponsored by a right-wing militia called the Washington Three Percenters.

Their rally, called “Liberty or Death 2,” was opposed by an ad hoc coalition of activist groups that organized a counter-protest to “Say NO! to misogyny, white supremacy and anti-Semitism.” This coalition was alarmed by rising racist, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ violence in Seattle and nationally. We felt the need to call for action after the recent murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue and of two African Americans at a grocery store in Kentucky, as well as Trump’s racist diatribes against Central American refugees.

Counter-protestors outnumbered and outlasted the participants at the Three Percenter rally and maintained a lively picket line with chants and musicians.   

Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Department went out of its way to block anyone who was not with the rally of bigots from being in the vicinity of the City Hall plaza. The entire west side of Fourth Avenue across from City Hall was barricaded. The counter-protest was forced one block south and surrounded by police. Only the violent far right was allowed freedom of assembly and speech.

Meanwhile, members of Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, self-identified “Western Chauvinist” street brawlers who were part of the alt-right rally, were allowed to roam freely. They made several attempts to breach our security lines and instigate altercations with the peaceful counter-protestors. These groups have a track record of violent attacks on anti-fascist protesters up and down the West Coast. A number of their members were recently arrested for assault after a New York City rally. The FBI has designated the Proud Boys as an extremely violent white nationalist group.

In Seattle, Proud Boys have a pattern of attacking human rights defenders, dating back to a June 10, 2017 anti-Muslim rally in front of City Hall that was cosponsored with a group called Act for America. That time, too, the Seattle police showed bias against human rights defenders. They were pepper-sprayed and three people defending themselves against aggression by the Proud Boys were arrested. In response, a broad coalition of 60 community organizations and leaders signed a letter calling on the Mayor, Police Chief and Director of Office of Police Accountability to investigate why there was a double standard in how the Seattle Police Department treated the anti-racists. The police denied any responsibility in that case and since then have only escalated their pattern of biased policing.

The Freedom Socialist Party stands with other community organizations on this Human Rights Day to sound the alarm: bias crimes in Seattle and the surrounding region have doubled in the last year and will continue to rise if misogynist, racist and homophobic organizations are allowed to hold regular recruitment rallies while public opposition is discouraged.  

Shortly before the December 1 “Liberty or Death 2” rally, the West Seattle home of a Jewish family was spray-painted with anti-Semitic slogans. There was also an arrest for racist and anti-gay vandalism in Bellingham.  And this past weekend, a large group of white supremacist skinheads attacked a black DJ at a Lynnwood bar. Enough is enough!

We call on Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Best to investigate the pattern of biased treatment towards human rights defenders and stop violating the First Amendment rights of those who stand up to intimidation and bigotry in our region.

The rise of Nazi skinheads in the Northwest in the 1980s and 1990s was only stopped after repeated, large and disciplined protests by a broad united front of community and labor organizations put an end to their recruitment efforts. It is imperative that we once again mobilize to prevent bigots and outright fascists from taking root in our community. City leaders who attempt to criminalize the efforts to confront white supremacists are aiding and abetting their rise. This is not acceptable.

We join our neighbors across the region to say no to misogyny, white supremacy and anti-Semitism!

Organizations who came together for the Dec. 1 counter-protest are ANSWER Coalition, Freedom Socialist Party, International Socialist Organization, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Radical Women, and Seattle Democratic Socialists of America. It was endorsed by Dyke Community Activists, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Puget Sound Socialist Party, Seattle Gay News, Seattle Silence Breakers, Social Equity Educators, and Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304.  The Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club also attended in support.

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