TACOMA, Wash. — As long-threatened ICE raids were due to begin in major cities around the country, protesters gathered in Tacoma outside the Northwest Detention Center to share their frustrations.
The event was scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed when the area turned into a crime scene after police shot and killed a man they said was throwing “incendiary devices” over a fence and trying to ignite a propane tank.
The crowd wanted their event to be loud so their voices could overcome the fences, penetrate the walls at the facility, and send a message to the people inside. They wanted everyone inside to know they’re “not alone.”
“The immigration system that has been created through ICE dehumanizes people. It tortures people, and we're going to stand against that as we have done for many years, and we will continue doing so until this place is shut down," organizer Maru Mora Villalpando said.
The event included stories from people who have stayed at the facility. Shacorrie Tunkara said her husband spent time there and did not get proper medical treatment. But when he spoke up, he was sent back to Gambia.
“Saja was abruptly deported and I and my children didn't get to say goodbye to him," his wife said.
She told the crowd the immigration system is both expensive and difficult to navigate. She believes the protest gives hope to those inside.
“Us being out here, right now, and them being able to hear us, that small gesture is humongous to them,” she said.
While that group wanted their voices to be loud, a quieter gathering happened nearby.
“Reason needs to come back to this discussion,” said Robert Bouick, who was with the group Washington 3 Percenters. “We're a nation of laws, and Congress and our government should have fixed this border issue. Now it's falling down into this where it's becoming violent."
Members of the group said they wanted to peacefully show there is another side to the issue.
“We support the law, law and order, and if you don't like the law, then change the law,” Darren Culbertson said.
A small memorial to Willem Van Spronsen sprouted up during the protest. He was shot by Tacoma Police outside the facility early Saturday after they say he threw incendiary devices over the fence and tried to get a propane tank to catch fire. He reportedly attended a protest at the facility Friday night and was known to some of those at Sunday’s rally.
The event wrapped up as word about ICE enforcement around the country started to trickle out. Organizers say their fight is far from over.
“The importance of doing this kind of public action is that ICE knows we are not going to be afraid of them. We are together, we are going to protect ourselves, we are going to protect our community," Mora Villalpando said.
The government contracts with the company GEO Group to run the facility. They said in a statement on Sunday that they operate a "safe" atmosphere.
"We take our responsibility of caring for the people housed at the Tacoma Processing Center seriously," the statement read. "We operate under a Global Human Rights Policy that outlines the guiding principles for the people in our care."