WSP chief addresses nightly protests, closing I-5 in Seattle

WSP chief addresses nightly protests, closing I-5 in Seattle

WASHINGTON — In a statement to the public, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste addressed the nightly closures on I-5 in Seattle due to ongoing demonstrations demanding racial equality and social justice.

To the frustration of drivers, protesters have gathered on the interstate, shutting down traffic for at least 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Floyd died in the incident.

The chief acknowledged WSP’s responsibility for the “safety and the enforcement of our state’s laws, and while we always try to satisfy the legitimate concerns of those we serve, in this case, I’m afraid our response will not be totally satisfying to all.”

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“In a time that requires care and flexibility, we are exercising the safest means possible to avoid injuries or worse to motorists, protesters, WSDOT personnel and our troopers by closing the roadway as needed and separating protestors from vehicular traffic,” Batiste’s statement continued. “With no effective way of stopping large crowds from entering its lengthy borders, temporarily shutting the roadway is our best measure to avoid the dangerous mixture of freeway speed, vehicles, and pedestrians, and to end the disruptions as quickly as possible.”

The chief said he and his team of troopers share motorists’ frustration, but their main burden is to maintain public safety.

Batiste went on to say, “We also understand and share the shock of the events in Minneapolis that have generated so much rightful indignation across our country and have demanded that we in law enforcement make careful and authentic assessments of our police tactics and relationships with communities of color.

“In this unique environment of prolonged and daily protests, our responsibility to keep people safe extends to those who might be endangered by protests on the roadways as well as those who peacefully use the freeway for making public statements,” the chief’s address continued. “Our response must remain flexible, and we clearly understand how maddening this inconvenience can be. But due to the extreme volatility of the current environment, the impact of the pandemic on our court and jail systems, and our iron-clad commitment to use force only when it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate to the situation, we are limited in our safe and appropriate response options.

“We need everyone’s assistance by extending to each other patience and grace as we all find the best ways to address these unprecedented challenges our country and state now face.”