During a rally that supported the release of a man in Tacoma immigration detention center, socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant said activists should demand leaders use local police to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Her statement comes as federal immigration agents allege Daniel Ramirez admitted to gang affiliation. Ramirez’s attorney said that allegation is false. Read both sides here.
“Let’s demand that the mayor not use Seattle police to repress peaceful anti-Trump protests. Let’s demand that he use instead Seattle police to block ICE from seizing human beings,” she said to a cheering crowd.
As a sanctuary city, Seattle police and city employees are prohibited from inquiring about immigration status, unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that person is here illegally after being deported and is committing or has committed a felony.
Mayor Ed Murray released a statement on Friday about the rally and Sawant's comment.
"The Seattle Police Department and the City cannot stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or other federal authorities from conducting raids in our city, and suggestions that would possibly create violent scenarios would undermine the commitment to peaceful protest called for by so many over the last month," he said.
Here's context to Sawant's statement on police and protests.
Sawant’s office posted on its blog in early February that it is working with a lawyers’ guild to propose legislation to “prevent the Seattle Police Department from participating in outrages” in light of the large Sea-Tac Airport protest.
Sawant and her staff have not clearly defined “outrages” or how that would differ from current policies. The councilwoman's office told KIRO 7 they wouldn’t release additional information until the proposed legislation is done.
In late January, at least 3,000 people gathered at Sea-Tac Airport in opposition to President Donald Trump’s travel ban in January that barred travelers from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries from coming into the United States.
Seattle police were one of 11 agencies that responded to the Sea-Tac protest, and a department spokesman said its officers had “no significant use of force or arrests.” Port of Seattle police defend their own actions because of security concerns.
But some leaders and activists still question law enforcement’s handling of the protesters – one focus including a video showing an officer spraying in direction of protesters.
SPD wrote after the protest that none of their officers deployed pepper spray and that per review protocol the use of the bicycle barricade would be reviewed. Read their full statement here. They deferred media questions to Port of Seattle (scroll down to read their response).
Days later Sawant’s office announced it is working on legislation, specifically mentioning Seattle police.
“After the pepper spraying and brutal treatment of protesters at SeaTac, my office and I are working with the National Lawyers Guild to propose legislation to prevent the SPD from participating in outrages like this in the future,” the post read. “If you witnessed or were the victim of police violence and/or harassment, and would be willing to submit testimony or images, please contact my office.”
KIRO 7 News reached out to Sawant’s office asking for clarity on what her office meant by “outrages.” This statement from Sawant was sent to KIRO 7 News on Tuesday.
“Socialist Alternative and I led the airport action throughout the evening, where over 6,000 ordinary working people courageously participated in non-violent civil disobedience in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers, against the Muslim ban and to free detainees,” Sawant’s written statement said. “There were police from several jurisdictions, including the SPD. What I personally witnessed were police shoving bikes into protesters, using pepper spray, and arresting dozens of peaceful activists. I agree with the Mayor’s call for Seattle to remain a sanctuary city, but that must imply that the SPD can’t assist in police repression against peaceful anti-Trump protesters,” the statement said.
Sea-Tac Airport officials are defending the way they responded. KIRO 7 News attended a Port of Seattle commission meeting on Tuesday where airport director Lance Lyttle explained he was trying to balance freedom of speech with the safety and security of everyone at the airport.
Lyttle said the situation escalated to a safety and security concern when, he said, protesters became violent. In addition to the pepper spray and bicycle barricade, the light rail skipped the airport during the protest.
“That's when the dispersal order was given because it was now getting out of control, happening at multiple points throughout the airport,” Lyttle added.
The Port of Seattle Commission wants to review the incident to see what they can learn from it. Port of Seattle interim police Chief Ron Covey said he gathering information from the 11 departments that responded. He said they should have a completed report by March 6.
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