By Mario Lotmore | Lynnwood Times Staff
The days of May 30 through June 1 were filled with trepidation, conjecture, riots, vandalism, looting, curfews and disappointment. What started as a peaceful protest in Seattle, was hijacked by nefarious elements bent on destruction and the perpetuation of fear throughout Puget Sound – from the Tulalip Tribe to Bellevue to Renton.
In an official statement earlier that day, Governor Jay Inslee encouraged the protestors to be peaceful. “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.”
The protest on Saturday, May 30, was against the disturbing video of George Floyd’s arrest, which led to his ultimate death. The protest was peaceful earlier in that day but then turned violent by agitators in the crowd.
“Today many across Seattle came together to grieve, to protest and commit themselves to the cause of justice. They did so peacefully, for noble values, using a cherished American right. For most of the day, the demonstrators were peaceful and I thank all of those who chose to exercise their right to protest without hurting others,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan at her 6 p.m. press conference on May 30.
Mayor Durkan shared her empathy with protestors and emphasized that the violence from agitators do not honor the memory of George Floyd.
At 5:00 p.m., Seattle Mayor Durkan, imposed a 5:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m. May 31 curfew to curtail violence that erupted in the downtown Westlake area of Seattle. Mayor Durkan announced a proclamation of Civil Emergency which in addition to the 5:00 p.m. curfew, imposed a temporary ban on all formal and informal weapons – guns, rocks, pipes, clubs, and flares.
According to a letter from the office of the mayor, Durkan imposed the curfew and requested assistance of the National Guard because of: multiple fires, multiple Seattle Police officers injured, multiple Seattle Police vehicles on fire, multiple community members injured, multiple incidents of demonstrators throwing bottles, multiple incidents of fireworks thrown into crowds, multiple incidents of throwing Molotov cocktails, and two stolen AR-15 rifles from SPD cruisers.
A reporter, Brandi Kruse, from Q13 Fox shared that a member of her security detail recovered one of the stolen weapons from the police cruiser.
At 5:23 p.m., Governor Jay Inslee announced on his twitter account that he activated up to 200 members of the Washington National Guard in response to a request from Seattle Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Cameron Best to help protect against property damage and manage crowds and traffic during downtown protests. Guard personnel were unarmed and worked under the direction of City of Seattle leadership.
Sending unarmed National Guardsman drew criticism from many on social media.
“Unarmed and under the city’s leadership? So that means there’s no sticks or anything? Just gloves and a mask? What a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Bree Kressly.
Statements by County Leadership
That evening, Snohomish County Council Executive Dave Somers released the following statement: “I stand against the horror that was done to George Floyd and many others and I stand against the violence we are seeing in Seattle and other places,” said Somers. “We have to end the hate or we will all be consumed by it. A long time ago a priest told me to always ask if my thoughts and actions are life giving, or death dealing. We all must ask this and choose light over darkness.”
Snohomish County Council Chair Nate Nehring shared a similar sentiment.
“The killing of George Floyd was an unacceptable tragedy and we must all demand justice. It is shameful that those gathered to peacefully protest this horrific event had their voices drowned out by others who selfishly used this as an opportunity to create chaos and destroy property. My prayers are with the Floyd family.”
Snohomish County Response Efforts
At 7:50 p.m. Snohomish County first responders were cleared to return to Snohomish County. Earlier, South County Fire along with the Mukilteo Fire Department and other Snohomish County fire agencies were called to assist with the Zone 9 and Zone 11 Strike Teams in Seattle.
South County Fire responded with three fire engines and a battalion chief, whereas; Mukilteo sent Engine 24 from Old Town. Assistant Chief Koen of the Mukilteo Police Department who is a member of the North Sound Metro S.W.A.T. joined the effort.
Seattle Riot Aftermath
Residents were unsure who were behind the riots as live broadcasts showed people of both sexes and all colors engaged in anarchic behavior. Rumors ranged from leftwing Antifa to rightwing white supremacy groups as the agitators that hijacked the once peaceful protest.
According to Danny Westneat, a Seattle Times columnist, a vast majority of all those arrested for looting, assault and other crimes were from Washington state. He further made the case that it is unfair to use an “outside agitator” narrative.
“Only two of this preliminary round of arrestees had out-of-state driver’s licenses. Police listed general addresses for 62 of the people picked up Saturday and Sunday for looting, assault and other crimes. All the rest are from Washington state. Twenty-three have Seattle addresses, while the others are from close-in Puget Sound cities such as Kent, Federal Way, Bremerton or Sea-Tac. Three are from Eastern Washington cities. Eighteen of the arrestees show that no address has been determined yet.”
Westneat further stated in his article that although majority of arrests were of white men, it was more of a cross section of all people – White women, Blacks, Hispanics, and a few Native Americans.
According to Katherine Khashimova Long and Paul Roberts, both Seattle Times reporters, business community leaders felt Seattle’s leaders failed them by allowing the rioting to spiral out of control just when businesses were hoping to partially reopen after COVID-19 closures.
According to their article, “Downtown businesses assess damage, weigh reopening after nights of riots, looting and chaos,” Jon Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association described the destruction as worse than the 1999 WTO riots. Destruction “ranged from smashed windows to the torching of vehicles to widespread looting.”
The next day, May 31, hundreds of protesters gathered in Bellevue at 3 p.m. to rally against the death of George Floyd. The protest began as peaceful, but then turned into a riot. At 3:30 p.m. reports came into the Bellevue police of widespread looting at Bellevue Square Mall.
At 5:30 p.m. Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson declared a state of Civil Emergency because of looters downtown damaging property, flipping over cars and active fires. A curfew was declared from 5:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. June 1 in the downtown area. The city also requested further law enforcement support from King County and the state.
Around 6:00 p.m. Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett stated that known gang members were responsible for organized looting in Bellevue. At 7:08 p.m. Governor Inslee in a tweet stated he activated an additional 200 guardsman to assist Bellevue.
“I have activated 200 additional members of the WA National Guard at King County’s request to help Bellevue respond to looting, protect property and manage crowds and traffic. Guard personnel will be unarmed and work under the direction of local leadership.”
Again, many on social media were critical of the state’s inability to control the mayhem in their response to Governor Inslee’s tweet.
“Too late too little,” tweeted Ali Isfahani. He continued, “If you were to shut down this nonsense in Seattle yesterday, we would be safe in Bellevue today.”
Theresa Walsh-Terry tweeted, “Yah that’s brilliant!!! Bring in the National Guard and let them be sitting ducks! What’s the point? Great job on protecting Seattle and Bellevue!”
A few defended the governor’s response to send unarmed guardsman by tweeting it was to de-escalate the situation.
Reports of Pending Antifa Violence in Snohomish County
At 4 p.m. on May 31, multiple reports came into the Lynnwood Times that local Antifa groups will be gathering at 6 p.m. around the county to riot and “take what is ours.”
According to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, the true source of the threat cannot be confirmed but stated that it took the threat seriously and “responded as if the threat was credible.”
City of Snohomish
At 7:30 p.m. the Lynnwood Times arrived at the city of Snohomish to confirm threats that the city was a possible target for rioters.
We witnessed, along with my associates, dozens of armed residents at every store front throughout downtown Snohomish. S.W.A.T. was onsite at the City Hall parking lot. When I asked one of the members of S.W.A.T. about the status of the situation, he replied he was not authorized to share any information.
We proceeded throughout the downtown area inquiring from business owners of the reason for armed residents at store fronts. Every one of the dozen business owners told me that they belong to a network of business owners around the state whom shared information of a pending threat of looters who were currently attacking Bellevue and plan to move north to Snohomish, Lake Stevens and the Premium Outlet Mall in Marysville.
One of those I spoke with was Derek who was protecting Artisans. He told us he was a friend of the owner. When asked why he is guarding the business, he replied, “To protect our businesses. Snohomish is not going to stand for what has been going on around the U.S.”
He continued to tell us that small business owners were notified via Facebook feeds that “people who had intent to harm were going to come out to Snohomish to protest then riot.”
Derek stated that on the previous day, about 50 people led a peaceful protest down at Second and D in the downtown area.
“We all believe in the Black rights movement…we strongly believe that. It [the protest] was very peaceful. They came out, everyone chanted, and they disbanded.”
Derek differentiated between protests and riots by stating, “Damaging property or causing harm to people, that is when you are crossing the line.”
“We are not going to allow what’s been happening in bigger cities when peaceful protests turn into riots.”
Another shop owner, Jana Johnson, the owner of Joy Works, a large lifestyle and home décor store, told us that at 4:30 p.m. she heard from a customer that Antifa was coming to the town. When asked about the show of force by residents, she replied “I am very thankful, and I feel very safe.”
Dana, a shop patron shared that Snohomish is “a very supportive community.” Dana then shared her hope and fear that resonated with many I spoke with that night.
“I hope this ends. This is senseless with all this rioting. It is one thing to protest what happened to George Floyd but to have people come in from other places to riot and loot and steal is not right.”
There was one gentleman with three other individuals sitting on the bed of a truck brandishing a Confederate Flag. The truck was located at the corner of First and D Avenue about two blocks away from the crowd. Other than that isolated incident, I nor those that joined me, witnessed any other potential racially sensitive symbolism.
It was my experience and those that accompanied me, that everyone was polite, friendly and welcoming. For full disclosure, I am a person of color and arrived at the city of Snohomish accompanied by two other persons of color.
At first, seeing open-carry residents was intimidating but after speaking with several of them, my self-imposed barriers of trepidation turned into openness and understanding. What I and my friends witnessed, were residents and business owners afraid of a repeat of events that happened in Seattle the previous night and that was currently happening in Bellevue.
Business owners and residents we spoke with told us that the state failed to protect Seattle and Bellevue and feared that Snohomish was going to be the rioters next target.
At 9 p.m. a group of five protesters and three supporters assembled at First and C. The Lynnwood Times interview three of the protesters. To respect the wishes of those interviewed, an alias of Alex, M and James were used for the story.
Alex, M and James reside in Snohomish and appear to be Caucasian. They were out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“No one should be scared to be killed because of the color of their skin,” said M.
Both young women were fearful of open-carry residents at store fronts and on the corners of streets.
“The white people here looked at us and thought we were a threat. They followed us walking down the street.”
When confronted on why they thought residents felt threaten by them, M said, “We are challenging their ideas and the ideas they hold are privileged.”
Alex added, “Right now a lot of white people are scared about what the future for them is… all we want is equality, but they don’t see it that way.”
Earlier, some residents did shout, “You should get out of here…You don’t belong here,” at the two young women as they walked through the crowd before ending up at First and C.
When it was disclosed to Alex and M of the pending threat from Antifa and how the townspeople mistook them for the threat, M gained some insight into the situation.
“I feel for businesses and understand them coming to protect the town.”
However, both young women believe there was a pervasive reason for the towns reaction because as M put it, “some residents were flying Trump flags.”
M concluded, “I am fearful and I can’t imagine what it is like to be a black person because this is the fear they fear every day.”
James another protester and resident of Snohomish told us that she understands that everyone is worried about their livelihood. However, she was not convinced that there was a credible threat to the town.
“I think this environment with the pandemic, and everything has caused people to become a little stir crazy. A number of people are here to protect their businesses.”
“There are some people that want to cause trouble, but a lot don’t… Everyone is afraid of everything and that is a normal response to what is happening.”
James wanted readers to understand that the takeaway message of the protest was to bring awareness to and to end “police brutality.”
By 10 p.m., First street looked less like an episode of the American classic Gun Smoke and more like a scene from the 2012 movie, Party X. The crowd of about one thousand, predominately white but of all races, were jovial, enjoying a night reminiscent of pre-COVID freedom, believing their proactive show of support protected their city.
Tulalip Reservation Attacked
However, the businesses and residents of the Tulalip Reservation spent the night on alert. In the middle of the night, the Tulalip Reservation was the target of vandalism and looting. According to social media posts and pictures, many armed residents protected the reservation that night.
According to a statement released by Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman, Teri Gobin, “Tulalip citizens, community members, and law enforcement mobilized to meet the potential threat and closed down the parameters of Quil Ceda Village, along with the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Quil Ceda Creek Casino.”
Gobin stated in her press release that about 40 people attempted to vandalize and loot businesses within Quil Ceda Village and several arrests were made.
“This has got to stop. We can’t go on this way, destroying even more lives,” said Gobin. “There are so many good people taking the brunt of this.”
Violence Spreading Across Puget Sound
Also that night, looters broke into 26 Tukwila businesses, including South Center Mall, and nine arrests were made. Looters also broke into a Walmart in Renton.
By June 1, the cities of Lynnwood, Bellevue, Seattle, Auburn, Redmond, Tukwila, Renton and Mercer Island were all under curfews with credible threats of vandalism and looting. The Lynnwood Times drove throughout Snohomish County on Sunday and Monday evenings.
Armed residents were seen patrolling neighborhoods in Lynnwood, guarding the Lynnwood Gun store, and at store fronts in Marysville, Kirkland, and Snohomish.
City of Lynnwood
Lynnwood, the retail mecca of Snohomish County, took the proactive approach to ward off potential looting and rioting by closing off the Alderwood Mall property and actively patrolling other city businesses.
Local Lynnwood business owners and store managers we spoke with were fearful of a repeat to the destruction they witnessed in Seattle and Bellevue. One owner of a local appliance store who would like to remain anonymous told us, “I am pleased that Mayor Smith took a proactive approach. This is why I love Lynnwood; unlike Seattle, our city protects us business owners.”
Lynnwood had no reports of looting nor vandalism but did make a few arrests.
County Comparison and Critics
Snohomish County when compared to King and Pierce counties experienced very little devastation. One could attribute this to the efforts of local residents, local law enforcement agencies, the Snohomish County Sheriff, and proactive responses by mayors around the county. However, further study is needed.
Some county leaders were critical of residents taking arms to protect their neighborhoods and livelihoods. One calling these actions as “vigilante justice” and “not how a civil society works.”
The claims of “public drinking” by “a bunch of untrained citizens sporting weapons” were not witnessed by me nor any of those that accompanied me. Every person that I saw with an open-carry weapon took their role seriously and was in communication with law enforcement and business owners.
To further insinuate that residents would need “law enforcement training” to protect their community is reminiscent of the fear mentioned earlier by James, “Everyone is afraid of everything.”
However, the concern by those for the safety of the community if unfortunately, someone were to harm himself or another, is prudent.
A society, that pays taxes to the “state” and elects its leaders to temporarily be given the privileged authority to manage the affairs of the “state” and protect its residents on their behalf, watched for three days as roaming mobs ravaged havoc across Puget Sound.
Within that context I would agree, “This is not how a civil society works or should work.”