On June 10, 2017, a broad coalition of community organizations came together under the banner “Seattle Stands with our Muslim Neighbors.” This solidarity action was called in response to the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America (“ACT”) organizing a nationwide day of protests against Islam, including in front of City Hall in Seattle.
ACT announced they were bringing with them to Seattle members of often-armed militia groups, such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, as their security team. These self-styled militias have documented white-supremacist and neo-Nazi connections. ACT also planned to bring forces from Portland to the Seattle protest. This was shortly after a white supremacist fatally stabbed two men in Portland as they were protecting two teenage girls from anti-Muslim assaults on a train.
“Seattle Stands with our Muslim Neighbors” came together out of a sense of urgency to stand up to this climate of hate, intimidation and bigotry. A uniquely diverse ad hoc coalition (“Coalition”) of Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis and American Muslims, social justice groups, feminists, left organizations, LGBTQ folks, union members, and more joined in solidarity to counter the ACT protest. The Coalition obtained a permit for Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, where they gathered to hear speakers, then marched to City Hall chanting, “No hatred, no fear, Muslims are welcome here.” After picketing, chanting and rallying on Fourth Avenue across from the ACT protest, the Coalition led marchers back to Occidental Square for closing speakers.
The Coalition brought together over 500 hundred peaceful community members and greatly outnumbered the anti-Muslim ACT protesters. It was a strong showing and powerful message of unity. Unfortunately, police behavior at the event jeopardized the safety and security of Coalition marchers and ended the Coalition rally at Occidental Park, with a physical altercation and arrests marring the otherwise successful Coalition counter-protest. We, the undersigned, would like to understand why this happened.
The Coalition had informed the Seattle Police Department in advance of their plans and peaceful intentions, coordinated a highly visible volunteer group of marshals to guide and protect all participants, brought legal observers, delegated two liaisons to communicate with the police, and complied with police demands. Despite these precautions, the Seattle Police Department on several occasions acted against the interests of the Coalition attendees and treated them as the primary threat, instead of the armed militia and anti-Muslim hate group members.
In at least two instances, a group of about a dozen men, apparently affiliated with the Proud Boys and/or Warriors For Freedom (Warriors), aggressively intruded into the Coalition crowd at City Hall. The Coalition police liaisons and marshals directly requested that the police intervene in each instance to stop this group from their provocations, which later escalated to physical attacks. Even with repeated calls for help, the police did not intervene in a timely manner to protect Coalition members. In the first instance on Cherry Street, the Coalition marshals had to organize a wall of people, four-deep, to prevent the aggressive group from getting further into the Coalition crowd and deter their violent behavior. Only then did the police set up a line of bicycles to separate the two sides there. In the second instance, when the same aggressive group sought to intrude on the
South side of the Coalition crowd, police were again asked to help but they did not intervene. Rather, the police were turned toward the Coalition crowd, seemingly ignoring the threat from the Proud Boys and Warriors. Only after the group aggressively intruded on the Coalition crowd again and one of the Proud Boys succeeded in physically attacking Coalition members, leading to a physical altercation, did the police intervene to separate the groups. The police let the Proud Boys and Warriors go with just a warning.
When Coalition participants left City Hall and marched back to Occidental Park for closing speeches, some of the Proud Boys and Warriors roamed the streets attempting to provoke further altercations with Coalition marchers. This was in plain view of the police. The police failed to prevent some of the same Proud Boys involved in earlier confrontations (who the police had even warned) from marching right into the Coalition crowd, again, at Occidental. One of the Proud Boys physically pushed aside a Coalition marshal who was trying to keep the Proud Boys out, and physically attacked the Coalition crowd in the southeast corner of Occidental Square. As Coalition participants responded in defense, the bicycle police then stepped in and pepper-sprayed the crowd, ending the Coalition’s rally at Occidental.
Police then arrested three of the Coalition participants while allowing the easily identifiable Proud Boys provocateurs – including the one that started the physical altercation there and earlier at City Hall, and had been previously warned – to simply walk away. Again. Police only arrested Coalition participants (who had not received prior warnings). They were released later that night.
We appreciate Mayor Murray speaking out against hate and discrimination in the past, and commend the City Council for putting up “We Stand With Our Muslim Neighbors” signs in the windows of City Hall. This reflects the best of our City in standing up to hate and hate groups with messages of unity and solidarity. It was this same spirit that motivated the Coalition. But the Seattle Police Department seemed to have a different view of the Coalition and ACT protesters, as reflected in the double standard in their treatment of Coalition participants versus anti-Muslim protesters and militia members. The police behavior put at risk the safety and security of the Coalition participants, and infringed on the free speech rights of Seattleites by bringing an end to the Coalition’s permitted rally at Occidental Square.
This kind of bias by the police against progressive, social-justice, and radical protesters — especially those demonstrating for the rights of immigrants and people of color — is part of a much larger problem of bias against people of color by the Seattle Police Department that we call on you to immediately address.
With respect to the June 10 protests specifically, we call on you – as Mayor, Police Chief and Director of OPA – to (1) investigate why there was a double standard in how the Seattle Police Department treated Coalition marchers versus the ACT protesters and militia members; (2) issue a report on steps to prevent such biased policing in the future; (3) meet with a group of Coalition participants to discuss ways to work together to prevent future incidents of biased policing (especially as another rally is scheduled on August 13); and (4) apologize to those wrongfully pepper-sprayed and arrested while standing up to bigotry.
Thank you in advance for answering this call to action as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing a response from you no later than August 7, 2017.
List of Signatories to Open Letter
Daniel Ojalvo, Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction in Seattle (SAFE)
Dan Gilman, Veterans For Peace, Chapter 92
Jane Cutter, ANSWER Seattle (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)
Omar Azad, Industrial Workers of the World
Rich Stolz, OneAmerica
Kim Berman, Kadima Reconstructionist Jewish Community
Gina Petry, Radical Women
Su Docekal, Freedom Socialist Party
Steve Leigh, International Socialist Organization
Ximena Velazquez-Arenas, D3 Neighborhood Action Council
Hannah Wertzberger, D3 Neighborhood Action Council
Aneelah Afzali, MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network)
Tim Phillips, Pastor, Seattle First Baptist Church
Brian Huseby, International Socialist Organization
Sara Suryan, D3 Neighborhood Action Council
The Rev. Shelly Fayette, Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle
Sandy Restrepo, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo
Eliana Scott-Thoennes, D2 Neighborhood Action Council
Ellie VerGowe, Pastor, First Covenant Church
Yaela Ettlinger, Kadima Synagogue
Luke Quinn, Migrant Justice Solidarity Group of CARW
Dan Hernbrott, D7 Neighborhood Action Council
Philip Sherwood, South King County Neighborhood Action Council
Dori Cahn, Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission
Jordan Goldwarg, Kids4Peace Seattle
Marcos Martinez, Casa Latina
Daniel Goodman, D3 Neighborhood Action Council
Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza
Jonis Davis, Kol HaNeshamah Synagogue
Alx Dark, Wallingford Indivisible Immigrant & Refugee Action Group
Hamdi Abdulle, Somali Youth & Family Club
Mozart Guerrier, 21 Progress
Rev. Dr. Marcia Patton, Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches
Bergith Kayyali, Indivisible North Seattle
Darrin Hoop, Social Equality Educators
Susanna Smith, Dyke Community Activists
Stefanie Fox, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace
Jorge L. Baron, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP)
Susan Blythe-Goodman, Seattle First Baptist Church
Diane Narasaki, Asian Counseling and Referral Service and Co-Chair of Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of King County
Arsalan Bukhari, Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington State (CAIR-WA)
Larry Behrendt, Indivisible Whidbey
Mergitu Argo, OneAmerica
Joseph Lachman, Japanese American Citizens League
The Neighborhood Action Coalition Nickelsville
Rabbi David Basior, Kadima Reconstructionist Community
Jon Grant, Seattle City Council Candidate, Position 8
Luke Quinn, Individual
Sherry Bupp, Individual
Norma Ramirez, Individual
Megan Holmes, Individual
Emi Yoko, Individual
Alex Fayer, Individual
Evelyn Correa, Individual
Gwen Demombynes, Individual
Natasha El-Sergany, Individual
Kristen Chesmore, Individual