Protesters sue Seattle, claim they need ‘expensive’ protective gear to safely protest

SEATTLE — A lawsuit filed Monday against the city of Seattle argues protesters’ constitutional rights have been violated by the police department’s “indiscriminate” use of chemical and less-lethal crowd control tactics, which have forced demonstrators to buy “expensive” protective gear in order to safely bring their message against police brutality to the streets.

“Because the Seattle Police Department has acted above and outside the law in dispensing its unbridled force, and the City has failed to prevent same, the government effect is to establish a de facto protest tax,” the lawyers wrote. “Individual protesters subjected to SPD’s unabated and indiscriminate violence now must purchase cost-prohibitive gear to withstand munitions – even when peacefully protesting – as a condition to exercising their right to free speech and peaceable assembly.”

The suit, filed on behalf of five protesters who attended the July 25 protest on Capitol Hill that police later declared a riot, seeks an order from a judge to stop the city from using controversial crowd control tactics on protesters, including blast balls and pepper spray.

It’s the latest lawsuit against the city of Seattle for its handling of protests that have continued in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. In response to a separate case related to these tactics, involving Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, the city has argued officers’ actions were directed at individuals and were not indiscriminate.

“But the continued misuse of war munitions by SPD against civilians turns the streets – a public forum and site of protest – into a pay-to-protest racket where only a privileged few who are wealthy enough or popular enough to crowdsource funds to purchase gear akin to that used by the police department they fund can truly be in the streets,” the lawsuit claims.

“We’ll look into these new claims,” said the Seattle City Attorney’s Office in a statement to KIRO 7. “The relief these plaintiffs seek is related to recent orders issued by Judge Robart and Judge Jones, so we’ll be filing a Notice of Related Cases with the court.”