ACLU, BLM Seek Emergency Court Order Barring Use of Chemical Weapons on Protesters in Seattle

June 9, 2020 3:15 pm

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SEATTLE — Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, together with individuals protesting police brutality, today sued the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the city of Seattle to immediately stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles on protesters. The emergency lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Washington, the law firm of Perkins Coie, and the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law.

In recent days, SPD has fired tear gas, pepper spray, and less-lethal weapons on protesters during numerous demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. The lawsuit, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County et al. v. City of Seattle, argues that the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

“These daily demonstrations are fueled by people from all over the city who demand that police stop using excessive force against Black people, and they demand that Seattle dismantle its racist systems of oppression. It is unacceptable that the Seattle Police Department would then respond to these demonstrations with more excessive force, including using tear gas and flashbang grenades,” said Livio De La Cruz, board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. “Rather than trying to silence these demonstrations, the City and SPD must address the protesters’ concerns by focusing on its policies and systems regarding police practices, use of force, and accountability.”

The suit comes after SPD deployed chemical irritants against protesters on Saturday night, one day after Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a temporary, 30-day ban on the use of tear gas for crowd control. On Sunday night, SPD announced that they were authorized to use chemical agents (CS gas) and deployed them against demonstrators.

“Excessive use of force against protesters is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, chills free speech, and widens the rift of distrust between communities and the police that are sworn to serve them,” said Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “The City should instead listen to demonstrators, build community trust, and establish meaningful police reforms.”

This lawsuit joins a number of legal actions the ACLU has been taking around the country in response to escalating law enforcement attacks on journalists and protesters, including suingPresident Trump and other administration officials for firing of tear gas on protesters outside the White House on June 1.

“As we warned, we will not let these violent attacks on our constitutional rights go unchecked,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Police cannot respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality. This is one of many lawsuits the ACLU plans to file across the country to safeguard our right to protest in peace.”

Below is additional comment from:

Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center: “As executive director of the Korematsu Center, I am keenly aware that government wrongs occur more easily when people do not speak out against those wrongs. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that people can raise their voices to protect Black lives and to gather together and march in silent protest against police violence without fear of police violence.”

David Perez, an attorney at Perkins Coie LLP, representing plaintiffs: “This action seeks to uphold rights that are foundational to our democracy: the rights to peaceful assembly, petition for redress of grievances, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from unwarranted seizures by the government. We will not waver in our commitment to defending those rights.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Western Washington. In addition to Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, individual plaintiffs include:

  • Abie Ekenezar, a veteran with disabilities who has attended protests in Seattle every day since Saturday, May 30 and was subjected to chemical irritants twice during the demonstrations. She served in Afghanistan and Somalia and participated in tear gas drills during her military training.
  • Sharon Sakamoto, a Japanese-American lawyer who survived internment as a child during World War II and is deeply dedicated to racial justice and civil rights, but who was deterred from the protests in Seattle due to concerns over the negative health effects of tear gas and other chemical agents used by SPD.
  • Muraco Kyashna-tochá, a 60-year-old woman who participated in the Seattle protests every day from May 30 through June 6 was subjected to tear gas and flash-bang grenades during the Capitol Hill protest on June 1. She required medical assistance for the injuries that she sustained that evening.
  • Alexander Woldeab, a Seattle-based videographer who participated in protests in both downtown Seattle and the Capitol Hill neighborhood, was subjected to chemical agents and flash-bang grenades several times over the course of a week.
  • Alexandra Chen, a first-year law student at Seattle University who experienced tear gas and flash-bang grenades twice during protests outside of the Seattle Police Department headquarters and in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
  • Nathalie Graham,a journalist with The Stranger, who was forced to stop reporting on the protests on both May 30 and June 2 because of the deployment of chemical agents by SPD on protesters.

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