Hundreds of police greeted protesters at Westlake Center mall Monday night, blocking their access and keeping watch as they took to downtown streets to protest the Ferguson grand jury decision.
The protest did not seem to hamper shoppers at the mall, unlike Friday night when Westlake Center closed early when protesters disrupted the evening’s activities. Shoppers appeared unaware or uninterested in the protest Monday night.
Earlier Monday, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said she had issued an “all hands on deck” order for officers in advance of the protest. O’Toole said plain-clothes officers who might not otherwise be in uniform would join uniformed patrol officers to staff the Westlake Center protest.
“We’ll have a big presence out there tonight,” O’Toole said. “I’m reassuring officers that their safety is paramount. I’m certainly going to back them up if they make any arrests of people who are assaulting police officers.”
Protesters gathered at Westlake Center around 6 p.m. and spent the better part of an hour trying to enter the mall. However, police blocked them from entering the privately owned center.
The protesters, about 200 in number, then marched east on Olive Way, blocking traffic along the way. Many chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Police on bicycles and in riot gear lined the route, at times blocking the group from entering side streets.
At one point, the protesters decided to turn around and head back to Westlake Center, but police barred them from heading back. Instead, the protesters broke up in smaller groups to make their way back to Westlake Center.
Numerous protesters reunited at Westlake Park, accompanied again by a heavy police presence.
As protesters blocked Pine Street, a cab driver tried to make his way through the crowd. The protesters let him through and he stopped his cab, got out and grabbed a bullhorn belonging to one of the protesters.
Omar Abdinasser, 45, made a speech about police brutality and joined the protest.
“I understand the issue,” he told a reporter later. “It is an issue for everybody.”
Earlier, O’Toole said she has heard a range of feelings from community members about the Black Friday protests that took over Westlake Center and Pacific Place.
“I’ve heard everything from ‘That’s a great civics lesson’ to people who were outraged,” O’Toole said. “As a parent myself, I was outraged. Families and children were trying to have an enjoyable evening.”
But, O’Toole said, officers made a clear decision to not escalate things by making wholesale arrests on Friday.
“You have to make a decision: Do you arrest someone? Do you pepper spray them? Do you use a baton? That would have further escalated the situation,” she said.
Since Friday, Seattle police have worked closely with private Westlake Center mall security to ensure that they report trespassing so police can step in and make arrests. O’Toole said police don’t patrol malls, but they will make arrests for reports of trespassing.
O’Toole thanked peaceful protesters but said that a group of “agitators” are causing the problems police are now seeing.
“We have this group of agitators who want to wreak havoc for everyone. We need to single them out and hold them accountable,” O’Toole said.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement Monday praising those who have mounted peaceful protests over a grand jury’s decision in Missouri last week to not charge a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man.
“We have also seen what appears to be a familiar band of anarchists exploit these peaceful protests and use them as a platform to do damage and create an atmosphere of fear and chaos,” Murray said.