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Violent protests and looting in Seattle Saturday leads to at least 55 arrests

At least 55 people were arrested after a peaceful protest turned violent in downtown Seattle Saturday. A curfew will be in effect at 5 p.m. Sunday.

SEATTLE — Protests in downtown Seattle turned violent and chaotic on Saturday following a peaceful rally over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a mandatory citywide curfew that expired at 5 a.m. Sunday. The curfew resumes again from 5 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

Several cars were set on fire, including police and transit vehicles and dozens of downtown businesses were tagged, damaged or looted, including Nordstrom, Target, Old Navy, and T-Mobile.

Police said several incendiary devices, including Molotov cocktails, were thrown during the protests. "These devices quickly ignited several city and private vehicles," said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

RELATED: Community rallies to cleanup downtown Seattle after violent protests, looting

Some protesters and officers were injured in the chaos, although no serious injuries have been reported. Chief Best said at least 55 people were arrested “for a variety of offenses from assault, to arson, to destruction and looting.”

KING 5 reporter Kalie Greenberg said some people were still looting businesses downtown Sunday morning after the curfew was lifted, while others in the area were taking pictures of the damage.

As the sun began to rise, volunteers and community members started showing up downtown to clean up broken glass and help secure businesses after the night of destructive protests. Brian O’Kelly said he drove in from Woodinville Sunday morning to help with the cleanup effort.

“We had another guy down here who said he’d been here all night scrapping graffiti off a window. It’s awesome. I was like, ‘is this your business?’ ‘No, I’m just here cause I can,’” said O’Kelly. “There is more of that than the people who were breaking stuff. You know, if you’re bent on breaking stuff, you can break a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. This doesn’t take a lot of people to do this. It’s going to take a lot of us to clean up the mess, though.”

Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan were both downtown by 9 a.m. surveying the damage and speaking to volunteers helping clean the streets.

“I’m totally inspired. It’s totally gratifying and so wonderful and heartening to see all of these people out here. Volunteers helping to clean up the destruction, and the graffiti, and all of the damage from last night,” said Chief Best.

At least one Facebook event was created asking people to come downtown at 11 a.m. Sunday to help clean.

Gov. Jay Inslee activated up to 200 members of the Washington National Guard to help law enforcement in Seattle. Guard personnel will be unarmed and work under the direction of Seattle city leadership.

David Postman, Gov. Inslee’s Chief of Staff, said it is the first time the National Guard has been called into Seattle since the WTO Riots in 1999.

Mayor Durkan imposed the curfew and issued a civil emergency proclamation, including an order prohibiting the use of weapons of any kind.

"The escalated incidents of destruction and violence do not honor Mr. Floyd," said Mayor Durkan during an evening news conference, where she emphasized that George Floyd's family has condemned the violent protests that have been happening across the country this week. The violent demonstrations "cannot and will not be allowed to continue," Durkan said. 

People gathered downtown Saturday afternoon to hold a peaceful protest following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis Monday night while in police custody. 

The protests started out peaceful at Seattle Police Department headquarters, but things escalated after protesters marched to Westlake Center to hold a rally.

Seattle police said people in the crowd threw fireworks towards people attending the rally and injured citizens and officers.

"At 2:38 p.m. the first dispersal order was issued as the demonstration became unlawful and then a riot.  Offenders were throwing and using incendiary devices including Molotov cocktails. These devices quickly ignited several city and private vehicles," said Chief Best.

RELATED: Media brands, social media show support for Black Lives Matter

Several Seattle police vehicles were set on fire at 5th Ave. and Pine Street. The Seattle Fire Department had to respond to put out the flames. Two rifles were also stolen from the SPD vehicles but later recovered, according to SPD

Later in the evening, other government-owned vehicles were set ablaze. Several storefronts downtown were also damaged and looted. 

Seattle police said at least 55 people were arrested. Durkan said she's been in touch with federal authorities to investigate some of the crimes that have been committed.

A woman attending the peaceful rally told KING 5 she is furious that other people not involved in the peaceful protest became destructive. 

"They hijacked our protest... I am furious," said the woman. "It has totally taken away from what we came down here to do."

Police used pepper spray, flashbangs, and other methods to disperse the large crowds downtown. The crowds eventually made their way onto I-5, where they blocked traffic. Both directions of I-5 were closed for several hours before reopening around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

Governor Jay Inslee issued a statement regarding the protests Saturday afternoon, saying he respects the right of all to gather peacefully but that destruction would not be tolerated. 

"As people gather today to protest the unjust death of George Floyd, I hope they do so peacefully and safely. Everyone has the freedom - and the right - to demonstrate and speak their mind. However, violence and destruction have no place in Washington state or our country," said Gov. Inslee in his statement. 

"Together, we grieve for the death of George Floyd, and many, many others. The events in Minnesota and across the nation the past few nights have been stunning and illustrate how inequity causes people to lose faith in their public institutions. The trauma inflicted on generations of people of color must be acknowledged, and more must be done to correct it. Feeling second-class in one’s own community does not make people feel safe. Insecurity hardens into anger.

"I fully support the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. I applaud every Washingtonian standing for what they believe in, but we must do so in a way that allows space for these important and necessary discussions, not in a way that inspires fear.

"If you choose to protest today, please be safe and peaceful. These are important issues that deserve our full attention, without distraction from violence and destruction. Without solutions to inequity, the long road to justice will run even longer."

Saturday's protests are the second day of destructive demonstrations in Seattle.

A peaceful rally in Seattle's International District Friday evening turned destructive when part of the group started moving downtown. 

Demonstrators broke glass at several properties downtown during Friday night's march, including shattered windows at an Amazon Go store, and a Fed Ex building. 

Credit: KING 5

The Seattle Fire Department issued a warning to downtown businesses to secure their outdoor property and remove combustibles. 

Credit: KING 5
A Fed Ex building damaged by protesters on May 29, 2020.

Flashbangs, pepper spray, and smoke bombs were deployed during the protest on Friday, with some minor injuries reported. At least seven people were arrested, including five accused of assaulting a police officer.

The Seattle Police Department issued a statement Saturday regarding the previous night's protests and addressed their use of force in one of the arrests.

Here is SPD's statement in full: "Every year, the Seattle Police Department facilitates over 300 free speech events, the vast majority without incident or arrest. Our policies and training are built around maximizing the exercise of free speech without officer intervention. The Seattle Police Department will continue to support the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights. We will not, however, tolerate violence and property destruction. Individuals engaging in this behavior will be arrested.

During the demonstrations last night, amidst property destruction and confrontations with officers, there were several arrests. In one arrest, which has received media attention, officers used force. Under SPD’s policies relating to crowd management and review of force, any force that is used during the course of last night’s event will undergo a high level of scrutiny and review by the chain of command, SPD’s Force Review Board, the Office of Police Accountability, and the Office of the Inspector General."

The protests are happening to stand against police brutality and to honor the life of George Floyd.

Four Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest were fired and one has been arrested after Floyd was pinned to the ground for around eight minutes as an officer pressed his knee on his neck. Video captured by a bystander shows Floyd begging for help, saying “I can't breathe.”

RELATED: Seattle leaders condemn death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody

Andre Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Not This Time, organized Saturday's peaceful rally at Westlake Park and explained the importance of being able to peacefully protest in an interview with KING 5 on Friday.

"We have COVID-19 that isolated people. Now people are isolated in that anger," said Taylor. "To have a space where people could yell, could scream, could cry, could march to relieve some of that frustration."

Taylor said it is an opportunity to send a message about what happened to George Floyd, and the video he has seen of the handcuffed black man pleading for air while a white officer kneeled on his neck.

Chief Best released a statement earlier this week to her officers calling the video of Floyd's arrest "upsetting, disappointing and infuriating."

“Because of the Seattle Police Department’s high level of training, our commitment to de-escalation, and our track record of limiting the use of force, I have confidence that something like this would not occur in our city,” Chief Best said in the statement.

A Black Lives Matter protest in response to Floyd's death is also scheduled to take place in Seattle’s Westlake Park on June 14.