A U.S. judge on Friday ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests, a victory for groups who say authorities have overreacted to recent demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.
The liberal city with a lengthy history of massive, frequent protests has taken hits from all sides — from demonstrators, some city officials, the president and now a judge — over the way it’s responded to crowds taking to the streets following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Those on the right say the mayor and police chief aren’t being tough enough on protesters who have taken over part of a neighborhood near downtown Seattle, while those on the left say police tactics have been far too harsh.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones sided with a Black Lives Matter group that sued the Seattle Police Department this week to halt the violent tactics it has used to break up protests.
Last weekend, officers used tear gas, pepper spray, and other force against crowds of protesters. Jones’ order halts those tactics for two weeks, though demonstrations this week have been calm.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have apologized to peaceful protesters who were subjected to chemical weapons. But Best has said some demonstrators violently targeted police, throwing objects and ignoring orders to disperse. Both have faced calls to resign, which they have rejected.
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The judge said those objecting to the police tactics make a strong case that the indiscriminate use of force is unconstitutional. Jones said weapons like tear gas and pepper spray fail to target “any single agitator or criminal” and they are especially problematic during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because they are indiscriminate, they may even spill into bystanders’ homes or offices as they have done before,” Jones wrote.
Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, “believes the court struck the right balance to protect the fundamental constitutional right to exercise protest, with the need to also ensure public safety,” spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said in an email.
Durkan also has requested reviews of police actions from the Office of Police Accountability and the city’s inspector general. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste also said Friday the agency will stop using gas until further notice, particularly amid the pandemic.
This week, demonstrators have turned part of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood into a protest center with speakers, drum circles, and Black Lives Matter painted on a street near a police station. Police largely left the station after the chaos last weekend, when officers tear-gassed protesters and some demonstrators threw objects at them. Police sprayed tear gas just two days after the mayor and the police chief said they were temporarily halting its use.
Durkan tweeted that on Friday she visited the so-called autonomous zone — which has been criticized by President Donald Trump and where people, including officers, come and go freely. She said she spoke with organizers about moving forward and noted that she’s always known Capitol Hill as a place for people to express themselves.
Trump has slammed her and Gov. Jay Inslee for not breaking up the occupation by “anarchists” and threatening to take action if they don’t. Both have assailed his comments and say they’re focusing on a peaceful resolution. The demonstrations have been calm since the police left the area.
Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said the group was pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“The city must allow for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it must address police accountability and excessive use of force,” Storms said in a statement.
The ruling came as massive crowds marched in the rain and some businesses temporarily closed in response to a call from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County to launch a statewide general strike.
“As tens of thousands of people were gathering today to march silently and in solidarity against police brutality and misconduct, the U.S. District Court affirmed their right to protest, free from state violence. That is a victory for today,” the group said in a statement.
Black Lives Matter encouraged supporters not go to work or to work from home Friday and to learn about local elected officials and issues. Organizers have demands for the city, county and state that include cutting at least $100 million from the Seattle police budget, ending cash bail and declaring racism a public health crisis.
Durkan tweeted that she and the police chief participated in the march, saying Best and her Police Department leaders have been working “incredibly hard to adjust and improve every day.”

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste also said Friday his personnel will stop using gas until further notice, particularly amid the pandemic.
 For nearly a week, people opposing police brutality and racial injustice have turned a Seattle neighborhood into ground zero for their protests, creating a carnival-like atmosphere with speakers and drum circles near a largely abandoned police station.
While protesters say it shows how people can manage without police intervention, it’s drawn scorn from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly threatened to “go in” to stop the “anarchists” he says have taken over the liberal city after officers withdrew to ease tensions.
Washington’s governor and Seattle’s mayor, both Democrats, have rebuked Trump and say local officials are trying to find a peaceful resolution following demonstrations that turned violent last weekend.
In the latest twist, a U.S. judge on Friday ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray, and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests.
A look at what’s going on in Seattle:
It stretches for several blocks in the densely packed Capitol Hill neighborhood just east of downtown Seattle and sprung up after police removed barricades near a police station Monday and largely left the building.
It came after officers used tear gas, pepper spray, and flash-bang devices last weekend to disperse demonstrators they said were assaulting them with projectiles.
Signs along the sidewalks proclaim “You are entering free Capitol Hill” and “No cop co-op.” Throughout the day, speakers use microphones to discuss their demands. Artists have painted a blocklong “Black Lives Matter” mural on the street. Many businesses are still open.
While there are makeshift barricades that block the area to vehicles, people walk in and out freely. And some officers have been back during the week to check on the police station.
They come from a variety of groups and interests, ranging from Black Lives Matter organizers to labor and neighborhood groups. Most want the police precinct to be turned into a community center and much of the department’s funding to be redirected to health and social services.
“What you see out here is people coming together and loving each other,” said Mark Henry Jr. of Black Lives Matter. “I see people coming from different walks of life ... learning from each other.”
In a series of tweets, Trump has taunted Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Jenny Durkan and said Seattle had been taken over by “anarchists.”
“These Liberal Dems don’t have a clue. The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful, even death. Must end this Seattle takeover now!” Trump tweeted Friday.
His comments come as he’s pushed for a stronger response to protesters nationwide. Following last weekend’s unrest, the protests in Seattle have been largely peaceful.
In a Thursday interview with the Fox News Channel, the president said, “If we have to go in, we’re going to go in. These people are not going to occupy a major portion of a great city.”
In response, Durkan said it would be “unconstitutional and illegal to send the military to Seattle.”
Police Chief Carmen Best said the decision to leave the Capitol Hill precinct wasn’t hers and she was angry about it. In a video message to officers this week, she also reiterated that police had been harassed and assaulted during protests.
“Ultimately, the city had other plans for the building and relented to severe public pressure,” Best said.
Durkan said in a statement that she decided to remove the barriers around the station in an effort to deescalate tensions.
Best said in an interview Friday on “Good Morning America” that officials had to remove some personnel for a short period, then it became unsafe for officers to go back.
Police initially said protesters in the “autonomous zone” had harassed and intimidated residents and businesses but later eased off those statements and said they had no concrete evidence of that.
While Best said she supports free speech, “this is not that.”
The police chief said Friday that officials were working to get officers back into the precinct, stressing the “need to have officers responding to calls in a timely fashion. And with the occupation that’s taking place, we’re not able to do so in a timely way.”
She says police want to ensure they’re responding to community concerns, keeping people safe and making their response “proportionate to what we’re addressing.”
On the first weekend of protests in late May, there was widespread destruction downtown as people smashed storefront windows and stole merchandise. Last weekend, police used tear gas to disperse crowds on Capitol Hill that they said had become unruly, soon after pledging to temporarily stop using a type of tear gas.
Some City Council members and other elected officials say authorities overreacted, and both Durkan and Best have faced calls to resign.
The new court ruling added to the criticism, saying a Black Lives Matter group that sued this week made a strong case that the indiscriminate use of force during largely peaceful protests is unconstitutional. The federal judge said weapons like tear gas and pepper spray fail to target “any single agitator or criminal” and are especially problematic during the coronavirus pandemic.
The mayor said she doesn’t want a repeat of last weekend’s violence and tweeted that she visited the Capital Hill area Friday to speak with organizers about moving forward.
Note to Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks, etc.: Good luck in trying to recruit (or retain) law-abiding candidates to work for your company if it’s based in Seattle (“The Seattle Secessionists,” Review & Outlook, June 12). What would prevent the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone anarchists from stopping at just their six-block occupation? The local leaders are inviting the protesters, some armed, to encamp for the long haul. The spread of autonomous and no-cop zones is inevitable unless stopped. Seattle-based companies may have difficulty finding people who want to come to a city where their safety and that of their families won’t be assured. Prospective employees must ask themselves if they want to work, live, and pay taxes in this type of environment.