A group of protesters announced on Friday the filing of a lawsuit against the City of Seattle and State of Washington for the police response to the protests that have been occurring in the city since late May.
In the 100-page lawsuit, attorneys representing ten different plaintiffs claim that police officers have engaged in discrimination and brutality in their handling of protesters during Black Lives Matter protests.
The lawsuit makes many allegations against the City and the Seattle Police Department, including: they deployed a disproportionate number of officers, they improperly handled peaceful protesters, used less-lethal weapons to disperse crowds indiscriminately (including the use of tear gas, blast balls, and flash-bang grenades), and they “have spread misinformation and disinformation about the protests, painting the protests and protesters in a negative light to justify the unconstitutional and improper tactics.”
In a press conference at Jimi Hendrix Park on Friday, plaintiffs gave their own personal testimonies of being met with violent force. The suit claims that all plaintiffs were engaged in peaceful demonstrations when they were assaulted.
Plaintiffs include protesters who were injured in the course of protesting, as well as the family of Summer Taylor, who was struck and killed by a vehicle who entered the highway via an exit ramp on July 4th while she was protesting on I-5.
Officers had closed the highway to protect the demonstrators, but attorneys argue that there were no barriers on the off-ramps, failing to protect the protesters from drivers with ill intent. The lawsuit lays the blame for Taylor’s death at the city’s feet.
“We stand here today because Summer Taylor lost their life for Black Lives Matter,” said Karen Koehler, one of the attorneys in the lawsuit. “We stand here today because that should not have happened and it’s the government’s fault.”
The Washington State Patrol announced shortly thereafter that protests would no longer be allowed on highways for the safety of all involved.
The driver, identified as Dawit Kelete, has been charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
The lawsuit lays out the history of police response to past Seattle protests, arguing that the department has a history of excessive force in the 1999 World Trade Organization Protests, the 2015 Black Lives Matter Protests, and the May Day protests of 2015 and 2016.
“Among the most pernicious contributors to systemic racism is the justice system, and its frontline – American policing, which has long suffered from an epidemic of violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoCs),” reads a portion of the lawsuit.
Protests through the summer in Seattle have been filled with both peaceful demonstrators and violent actors. In July, 59 officers were injured in one single night of riots. And there is ample evidence through videos and photos of protesters vandalizing buildings, lighting cars on fire, throwing molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers, and carrying weapons.
Ten plaintiffs have joined the lawsuit, with forty more expected to eventually join. The trial date has been set for September 27th, 2021.