UPDATE: Youtube has removed SPD’s copied version of my video via a successful copyright infringement complaint.
On December 7th I compiled photographs, video, and written documentation of the incidents that occurred during the previous night of December 6th, when primarily peaceful protesters marching on the streets against police brutality, racial profiling, and institutional racism, were frequently harassed and intimidated by officers of the Seattle Police Department, eventually resulting in 7 arrests. My report highlighted SPD’s frequent use of force against protesters and showed how it substantially escalated the situation rather than the opposite.
Included in my report was a video showing SPD officers attempting to apprehend an individual and successfully arresting another protester underneath the north end of the Alaskan Way viaduct on Western Avenue in between Bell and Battery streets. After publishing this video both on this blog and on youtube, SPD republished it on their crime news blotter, taking screen shots of two individuals showed in the video and calling for their arrests under claims of “obstruction” for the woman and “assault on an officer and obstruction” for the man on the right. The footage has also been disseminated to various news outlets such as Komo and Q13 Fox news, who framed the footage with sensationalist and misrepresentative headlines such as “Police search for protesters who allegedly attacked officers.”
SPD has not contacted me regarding their usage of the video, nor attempted to obtain any eyewitness account from me of what happened underneath the viaduct. So I’ll give it here:
To reiterate what I said in the post, tensions were extremely high at this point. The Police had previously used pepper spray against a non-violent protester standing on the sidewalk on the corner of 1st Avenue and University Street, and had already knocked down another protester farther south on 1st – who was also walking on the sidewalk – in a attempt to circumnavigate the main body of the march that was occupying the street.
Above is footage from the Western avenue pepper spray incident. Note that the officer also briefly pepper sprays a legal observer (neon green hat) filming the scene.
At the corner of Bell Street and Western avenue, SPD bike cops again tried to circumnavigate the march by moving along the right side of the protesters on the sidewalk, which was partially occupied by protesters. I witnessed one female SPD officer forcefully shove a protester out of her way as she attempted to ride past, using both her arms and her bike frame. The protester responded – intentionally or simply through instinctive reaction – with a slight kick to the officer’s shin. The officer rode past and joined the rest of her squad in front of the march, pointing out the protester who had ‘assaulted’ her to her fellow officers.
As the march continued north on Western past Bell street, two SPD officers attempted to apprehend the ‘assaulter’. This is where my video kicks in, showing several protesters attempting to shield the individual from SPD’s attempted arrest beside a squad car underneath the Alaskan Way viaduct. The protected individual was tackled only seconds later by another officer and arrested. The woman charged with obstruction can be seen pulling the protester away from the first arresting officer, while the male in the green pants featured on the blotter is seen behind that officer, attempting to do the same. Nowhere in video does it show the male in the green pants hitting or striking the officer.
What the video fails to showcase is the events leading up to this incident: how previous applications of force used by SPD officers against peaceful protesters ramped up the situation which lead to this incident.
What the footage does illustrate is the innate dilemma that reporters such as myself are faced when covering these kinds of events. Journalists are obligated to both report events as they occur, but also to minimize unnecessary harm to individuals being reported on, two goals which in this instance came into direct conflict. What I reported on was SPD again escalating a already tense situation and capitalizing on reactions of protesters who have just been subjected to previous police brutality (i.e shoving, pepper spray), which was obvious from the context I gave in my report. However my video footage has since then been used by SPD to misrepresent both protesters and themselves, thus advancing the narrative of ‘violent protesters’ and ‘defensive police’.
The notion that the dynamics of these protests are one-sided (i.e protesters acting independently while SPD responds to their erratic behavior) is inaccurate. SPD has an equal role, – in this incident a much larger role – based on what decisions they make on how and when to apply force, in creating these types of incidents. In addition SPD is rarely held accountable to such decisions, unlike protesters.
My reporting, let alone all journalists doing similar reporting on such incidents, is hindered when we are unable to or should not report the truth due to having to protect protesters from further unaccountable police aggression. We can bury the truth, or we can publish it and risk misrepresentation and misappropriation as SPD has done.
To all those unnecessarily impacted by the legal implications of the video, I apologize. The lengths SPD will go to to chase down and prosecute peaceful protesters are excessive and abhorrent.
And, if police are so keen on arresting protesters who have broken the law in recent weeks, why not arrest Macklemore? He played a well documented role in shutting down I-5 during evening protests on November 24th.