Seattle, WA – Seattle protesters have filed a lawsuit that claimed their First Amendment rights are being violated because they cannot afford the protective gear required for rioting.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of five protesters claimed the Seattle Police Department’s “indiscriminate” use of chemical and less-lethal crowd-control tactics has impeded their ability to protest because it has forced rioters to purchase “expensive” body armor to protect themselves, KIRO reported.
“Washingtonians are trying to exercise their right to protest in the streets of Seattle to demand an end to police brutality,” the lawsuit said.
“But the Seattle Police Department, omnipresent at each protest, wields power and pain on the streets by indiscriminately shooting toxic substances in the air, deploying projectiles at departing protesters, and tossing blast balls into close areas of protesters marching,” the lawsuit continued. “These tactics make safe protest prohibitive: one needs an exceptional amount of protective gear to enjoy that freedom.”
The complaint specifically mentioned the events of July 25, when it claimed that the petitioners “were subjected to the unmitigated violence” of the Seattle police.
That was the day that at least 59 law enforcement officers were injured during violent riots in Seattle when rioters blew a hole through the wall of the East Precinct, looted and destroyed businesses, and set occupied buildings aflame.
The city council had passed a ban on the use of less-lethal crowd-control tools, including pepper spray, that was supposed to have gone into effect on July 26, but a judge issued a temporary restraining order on July 24 that put a hold on the new ordinance.
The U.S. Department of Justice had filed the challenge to the city’s ban on less-lethal tactical devices and argued that it conflicted with the consent decree in the federal oversight agreement that has been in effect since 2012.
The judge said he didn’t think it would increase public safety to take away all of the officers’ crowd-control tools in the middle of violent protests without training them in “alternate mechanisms to de-escalate and resolve dangerous situations” during rioting, the Seattle Patch reported.
The timing of the judge’s order proved fortuitous because thousands of rioters tore through the city the very next night and attacked the East Precinct with projectiles and explosives, KIRO reported.
More than 5,000 protesters began gathering at about 1 p.m. on July 25 for what began as a peaceful protest.
The march in support of the months of Black Lives Matter protests and rioting in Portland started out at East Pine Street and Broadway and stretched for more than a city block, KIRO reported.
But at around 4 p.m., the protest devolved into a riot as violent protesters targeted the construction site of the former King County Youth Detention Center, which is being turned into a parking lot.
Rioters had brought sledgehammers with them on the march, and used them to smash the windshields of employees cars in the parking lot, KIRO reported.
They also scaled a fence and firebombed a row of construction trailers located on 12th Avenue.
From the construction site, the vandalism and destruction continued up the street and multiple businesses were attacked, KIRO reported.
A Starbucks at 12th Avenue and Columbia Street had its windows smashed and was looted before it was set on fire, KTTH reported.
The Starbucks was located on the first floor of an occupied apartment building and residents had to be evacuated when it was set ablaze.
An Amazon store and a Whole Foods met with similar fates.
Seattle police said protesters vandalized the outside of the police department’s East Precinct with spray paint and tried to disable the security cameras, KIRO reported.
Rioters breached the fence protecting the building and shot an explosive device at the building that blew an eight-inch hole in the side of the precinct.
But the lawsuit claimed that the police department had broken the law and used “unbridled force” against protesters, KIRO reported.
“Because the Seattle Police Department has acted above and outside the law in dispensing its unbridled force, and the City has failed to prevent same, the government effect is to establish a de facto protest tax,” the lawsuit alleged. “Individual protesters subjected to SPD’s unabated and indiscriminate violence now must purchase cost-prohibitive gear to withstand munitions – even when peacefully protesting – as a condition to exercising their right to free speech and peaceable assembly.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office told KIRO that it was looking into the newest lawsuit.
“The relief these plaintiffs seek is related to recent orders issued by Judge Robart and Judge Jones, so we’ll be filing a Notice of Related Cases with the court,” the office said in a written statement.
The lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the protesters said she got involved after hearing stories about protesters shopping for gear in military surplus stores, KUOW reported.
“We started hearing stories about folks who were spending $400 to $500 on gear to try to be able to protest the streets,” attorney Talitha Hazelton said.
“When we hear this community talking about how it’s so cost prohibitive, there’s actually a name for that… called equal protection,” Hazelton insisted. “You shouldn’t have to be rich to be able to air your grievances via your First Amendment rights.”
But despite the attorney’s assertions, police said it was the violent protesters attacking them, and not the other way around.
Police said rioters threw rocks, bottles, and mortars at officers on July 25, injuring dozens.
KIRO captured video of a protesters trying to tear an officer’s riot helmet off his head.