Op-Ed

Black Lives Matter March Triggers Massive Seattle Police Action

Saturday afternoon, July 9, 55 Seattle Police officers were deployed to monitor a meeting of The Seattle Black Book Club that was held in a small branch of The Seattle Public Library.

The reason? Terrorism, of course.

SPD’s “Incident Action Plan,” obtained through a public disclosure request, says the deployment was “to prevent, mitigate or respond to criminal terrorist acts.” It doesn’t say specifically what SPD was expecting at the library that day, but it does refer to over 1000 racial justice activists who marched in Seattle two days earlier:

“On 07/07/2016, there was a large demonstration in downtown Seattle in light of two (2) controversial Officer involved shootings which occurred in other states. More than 1,000 people attended the demonstration, which began at Westlake Park and included a march throughout downtown. Simultaneously, at a similar event in Dallas, Texas, a gunman conducted a military style ambush, killing five Officers and injuring seven others. 2 Civilians were also shot.”

SPD’s reasoning seems to be that a peaceful Seattle march was similar in some way to the killing of five officers in Dallas, so Seattle racial justice activists need to be monitored big time.

In their Action Plan, SPD says “Public disclosure of this record would have a substantial likelihood of threatening public safety.” So cops think if we discover they’re spying on peaceful local activists that somehow puts our safety at risk? I say not knowing about such covert police intelligence gathering poses a threat to our safety.

Most worrying of all, the Plan says, “Officers must be mindful that plainclothes and undercover Officers may be working within or near the crowd.”

Of course, the history of activism in this country is riddled with police, FBI, and Homeland Security spying on activists of all stripes. So, it should come as no surprise that SPD is monitoring racial justice advocates now. But a meeting in a library on a Saturday afternoon? Perhaps anticipating that the appropriateness of this level of surveillance would be called into question, SPD says, “There is speculation that the group may decide to march after the meeting.”

SPD personnel deployed included a captain and 4 lieutenants who led the operation, bike cops from 3 precincts, 3 SWAT squads, prisoner-processing personnel, a transportation component, traffic cops and an Intel officer. In addition, the Plan called for the new ultra-tech Real Time Crime Center to be activated.

All this, in response to “speculation,” SPD? I call it hair-trigger excessive policing. Or maybe I should describe it in your own words — “criminal terrorist acts.”

SPD apparently considered the likelihood of violence at the Beacon Hill Library high enough to provide officers with contact information for 4 ambulance services and 8 nearby hospitals that could receive the wounded. In fact, it turns out there were no wounded. There was no violence. And there was no march!

At best, this was a pathetic waste of public resources. Worse is the long term chilling effect of police surveillance on our right to peaceably assemble, speak, and protest. And worst of all, this massive deployment of cops could have led to physical harm to peaceful activists.

Was it worth it, SPD? Would you do it all again? Or maybe the questions should be: Where will you invade next? And when?

Originally published on southseattleemerald.com September 30, 2016.