On Monday, June 8th, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) voluntarily withdrew from their defensive positions around the East Precinct as a surge of protesters flowed east from the flash-point barricade on 11th and Pine. The precise location of that barricade had become the subject of an evolving cat-and-mouse game between police and protesters which escalated on several occasions to the point that police felt obliged to reset the line with massive shows of force. Perhaps the most violent confrontation occurred in the late evening hours of June 7th when SPD unleashed a fury of gas and flash-bang explosives, seemingly without specific provocation though it followed a slow, systematic barricade advance by protesters towards the police.
Exactly how or why the East Precinct became a focal point for protesters is uncertain, though it appears SPD established their security perimeter June 1st after declaring nearby demonstrations a riot. Over the course of the following week the precinct became a symbolic objective for protesters simply, I suppose, on the basis that SPD fought so violently to protect it.
Between June 1st and 7th, SPD subjected the neighborhood around the East Precinct to de facto martial law and wanton intimidation and violence. They also appeared to have conducted a retaliatory arrest away from Capital Hill against at least one individual who documented an officer pepper-spraying a little girl at an earlier protest. Throughout SPD’s occupation, Mayor Durkan and SPD chief Best, continually gas-lighted Seattle about the basic facts and narratives concerning the police violence by attempting to frame the officers actions within the scope of reason, necessity and prudence. Many are calling for Durkan’s resignation as a result of her seemingly deliberate ineptitude.
Given Durkan’s astounding commitment to Orwellian Double-Speak, which is truly incredible considering the magnitude of video evidence contradicting her narrative position, we should abandon any expectation that she intends to pursue meaningful reform for SPD. On the contrary, Durkan now appears unmistakably committed to the maintenance of SPD in its current state – as a paramilitary organization.
Durkan’s unwillingness to acknowledge the facts at hand should inform estimations of what it means for protesters to have gained control over the streets surrounding the East Precinct. First, let’s consider the unusual nature and unclear intent of SPD’s retreat. SPD boarded the windows of the precinct, fenced the immediate perimeter and applied fire retardant before moving offsite. In essence, SPD appears to have temporarily surrendered their responsibility to provide security at a protest site while still retaining their position as Seattle police.
Meanwhile, protesters who are both misrepresented by the corporate media and completely unsatisfied with Durkan’s response have acquired de facto responsibility for a building that is still technically controlled by SPD. Further, as the night unfolded, SPD appears to have broadcast false information about Proud Boy hate groups marching towards protesters as if to engineer a compromised-security condition that would shift public perception in their favor, according to twitter accounts that monitor unencrypted police radio channels. And worse yet, with so much uncertain in the face of a proverbial powder keg, the Seattle city council hesitates and pretends it doesn’t know how to immediately solve the problem.
Without indulging the conspiratorial, it seems quite likely that SPD’s retreat was a strategic move meant to deny the protesters the political expediency afforded by the public outcries that grew following each show of force at the 11th and Pine barricade. SPD, I imagine, has reasoned that without an ongoing conflict with officers in riot gear, protest leaders will fall prey to infighting and lose external support quickly enough that they can successfully intervene through back channels to limit impending reforms while the mayor and city council stalls in the interim.
Furthermore, as political leaders are slow to react, a media war is forming to set the narrative for Capital Hill’s new “autonomous zone,” an informal term for the area suddenly free from SPD’s martial law. This poses a real and credible threat to the public’s perception of the protesters aims, integrity and effect.
In order to maintain momentum and relevance, protest leadership now needs to be visible and united as they provide the crowd with explicit purpose and direction, something that hadn’t been necessary only a day before. Furthermore, while conversations around defunding are fairly straightforward in terms of what percentage of its own budget the SPD will keep, conversations about how to restructure public safety are far less clear. As that conversation begins, protesters should look to educate themselves on the vernacular and perspective of the SPD and police more broadly to discredit SPD’s counterpoints to radical reform items. Otherwise, the institutional memory of the SPD, which is obviously informed by Dave Grossman’s tactical philosophy “Killology,” which is why it’s necessary to disband the police force, will maintain continuity through the reform process ultimately undermining positive effects of reform, as we’ve seen time and time again.