Police declare riots in Seattle and Portland amid US protests

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets for weeks following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Seattle protest
A large group of United States protesters was marching on Saturday in Seattle in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality and racial injustice [Ted S Warren/AP]

Riots were declared by authorities in the United States cities of Seattle and Portland as months-long demonstrations against racial injustice have continued across the country. 

The most recent night of unrest marked two months to the day that George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died in police custody in Minnesotta after a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.  

Saturday’s demonstrations included a car driving through a crowd of protesters in Aurora, Colorado, a man fatally shot in Austin, Texas, and a court house set aflame in Oakland, California.

In Seattle, authorities declared a riot following large protests in its Capitol Hill neighbourhood, with police deploying flash bangs and pepper spray to try to clear a weeks-olds “occupied protest zone” that stretches for several blocks. Police had previously cleared the area after two fatal shootings there earlier this month. 

On Twitter, police said they had made at least 45 arrests and were investigating “possible explosive damage” to the walls of the city’s East Precinct police station.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters in the city broke through a fence where a youth detention facility was being built, with some people setting a fire and damaging a portable trailer, authorities said.

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Thousands of protesters had initially gathered peacefully near downtown Seattle in a show of solidarity with fellow demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, where tensions with federal law enforcement have boiled over in recent days.

The Trump administration announced last week that federal agents were being deployed to Seattle, as well as Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Judge stays pepper spray law

The clashes also came shortly after US District Judge James Robart, on Friday, granted a request from the federal government to block Seattle’s new law prohibiting police from using pepper spray, blast balls and similar weapons.

The law, passed unanimously by Seattle’s city council, was set to go into effect on Sunday.

“In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence,” Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Carmen Best announced before Saturday’s protest. 

About 174 miles to the south, tensions remained high in Portland, Oregon, which has become the scene of a highly controversial crackdown by federal agents deployed to the city by the Trump administration, in what the White House described as a mission to protect federal buildings and monuments. 

Amid pushback from local officials, the inspector general of the US Justice Department on Thursday opened an official investigation into the federal agents’ actions, but a federal judge in Oregon on Friday rejected a legal bid by the state to stop the agents from detaining protesters.

Early on Sunday, authorities declared a riot amid clashes in which federal agents fired tear gas and protesters toppled a fence erected around a federal court house that has become the central focus of the demonstrations. 

Police, who closed the area, also said protesters had thrown fireworks at federal law enforcement, who have been accused of using excessive force and of detaining protesters in unmarked vehicles far from federal sites.  

Also on the west coast, in Oakland, California, protesters set fire to a courthouse, damaged a police station and assaulted officers after a peaceful demonstration intensified late on Saturday, police said. 

Protests across the country

In Aurora, Colorado, a vehicle drove through a group of protesters as they walked on Interstate 225 on Saturday in a protests calling attention to Elijah McClain, an unarmed black man who died after police put him in a chokehold in the suburb last year. 

Police said a protester fired a weapon during the incident, striking at least one person who was taken to a hospital in stable condition. No one else was immediately reported injured. Authorities said the vehicle was towed and they were investigating.

Meanwhile, amid protests in Austin, Texas, a man was fatally shot on Saturday, police spokesperson Katrina Ratliff told reporters. 

A witness told the Austin American-Statesman that the incident occured after a vehicle honked, turned down a road and then sped toward protesters. A man, who the witness said was carrying a rifle, then approached the vehicle and was shot by the driver, who sped away. 

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Initial reports indicated “the victim may have been carrying a rifle,” Ratliff told reporters, adding that the suspect was detained and was cooperating with police. 

In Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, a group of heavily armed Black protesters marched to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in March by police officers who burst into her apartment.

Scores of demonstrators, members of a Black militia dubbed NFAC, carried semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and wore black paramilitary gear as they walked in formation to a fenced off intersection where they were separated by police from a smaller group of armed counter-protesters.

During the gathering, three members of the militia were accidentally shot, police said. The wounded were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Meanwhile, on the east coast, a city dump truck was set on fire as protesters faced off with police in Virginia’s capital.

Richmond police declared an “unlawful assembly” around 11 PM and used what appeared to be tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters there. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies