Seattle Police have been ordered to stop using pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades following a lawsuit, further tying their hands as the so-called ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ sprouted around their abandoned precinct.
Handed down by US District Judge Richard Jones on Friday, the order concludes that “on some occasions [Seattle police] used less-lethal weapons disproportionately and without provocation,” having a “chilling” effect on free speech amid ongoing demonstrations over police brutality.
“What brings the parties to this Court today are peaceful protesters desiring to engage in their rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the freedom of assembly without fear of retaliation or disruption by Seattle police officers’ use of tear gas, pepper spray, flash bang devices, or foam-tipped bullets,” the judge wrote.
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In a show of “de-escalation” of tensions last Sunday, Seattle officers abandoned their East Precinct headquarters, allowing a group of demonstrators to take over and set up a commune-like ‘autonomous zone’ covering several blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
The barricaded ‘no-cop’ area has since been widely criticized as a sign of the city’s inability to maintain law and order, with US President Donald Trump even calling the activists “domestic terrorists” and vowing to directly intervene if local officials won’t “take their city back.”
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Mayor Jenny Durkan has so far shown little willingness to do so, arguing the protesters have remained peaceful and thus the situation will likely be allowed to drag on into a “summer of love.”
Police Chief Carmen Best, however, broke with the mayor on the “autonomous zone,” saying that officers have been unable to respond to “rapes, robberies and all sorts of violent acts” in the neighborhood, and that abandoning the area is an “insult” to law enforcement and the wider community.
The judge’s decision comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought against the city by Black Lives Matter activists and the ACLU, seeking to stop police from using “aggressive” tactics against demonstrators. Despite a previous 30-day ban on tear gas issued by Durkan, police nonetheless used it on demonstrators on a number of occasions throughout the recent protests, which were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis late last month.
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