Why do Seattle Police allow protesters to block the roads?

When it comes to freedom of speech, police say protesters get the right of way.

The Seattle Police Department got an earful from angry commuters after a group of protesters blocked the streets of downtown for hours last Friday, causing a major traffic mess.

So why do they allow it to happen?

Deputy Chief Chris Fowler said freedom of speech gets the right of way.

"Courts have found that the first amendment trumps a lot of other laws and a lot of other conveniences," said Fowler. "We have a rich history in Seattle of allowing a lot of protests. That's become our defacto policy -- to allow public individuals to express their constitutionally protected first amendment right on the streets."

Loading ...

Seattle Police responds to an average of 300 protests a year. Some are permitted.

Some, like Friday's, are not; giving less time for police to prepare a route and provide public safety.

But that doesn't mean protesters get to run the roads.

Fowler said Seattle Police was working with them to make sure emergency vehicles could at least access calls.

Complicating matters, the demonstrators chained themselves together. A tactic SPD hasn't seen in a while.

"We call it a 'sleeping dragon.' And it takes someone 45 minutes to get someone out of that," said Fowler. "The incident commanders had backward-planned. Knowing it might impact traffic at 3 o'clock, they were prepared to get them out of those devices at 2:15."

Fortunately, the demonstration ended before then.

However, Fowler said officers would intervene if demonstrators commit acts of violence or property damage.