Gov. Jay Inslee has addressed the recent protests hitting Washington cities following the death of a black man in Minnesota, calling the outrage justifiable but pushing back against violence escalating from demonstrations.
During a press conference Monday, June 1, the governor spoke about protests across the state and the nation, with some U.S. cities seeing looting and property damage. The demonstrations were over the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died May 25 after a police officer, Derek Chauvin, held down Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
Chauvin now faces third-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Protests that led to confrontations with police and property damage hit both Seattle and Portland over the weekend, though not all protests in the region turned violent. On Sunday both Vancouver and Centralia were able to have more peaceful demonstrations than bigger cities.
Inslee said people were “justifiably outraged at the killing of George Floyd,” due to “police irresponsibility to a person of color.”
“A denial of one person’s liberty, in this case, was a denial of one person’s life,” Inslee said, “and when that happens, everyone’s liberty is reduced.”
Inslee spoke of three values which he said were “entirely consistent with one another, because they all point to the necessity of justice in our community,” — those being outrage over Floyd’s death, a ceasing of violence and property damage, and the efforts of those in the community to rebuild ties after turmoil. For the last value he gave an example of numerous Washingtonians who the morning after a night of demonstrations descended on Seattle to clean up from the night’s events.
Acknowledging that the ability to petition for a redress of grievances was a constitutional right, “violence and destruction has no place in this, it is not productive and it is not constitutionally-protected,” Inslee said. Fires started in Seattle were “totally unacceptable,” noting that some peaceful demonstrators were urging those looking to damage property to stop, “sometimes to no avail.”
People causing violence should be “prudently prosecuted, and they will be,” Inslee said, adding it was important not to allow the acts of violence to “obscure the justice of the underlying protest” and peaceful protestors’ efforts.
“We just can’t allow violence to hijack peaceful protest,” Inslee remarked.
As part of responses to mass demonstrations Inslee said Seattle had requested assistance from the Washington National Guard Saturday, with the state approving activation of up to 200 servicemembers to serve to “guard critical infrastructure (and) reduce property damage.” Inslee stressed that members of the Guard were “unarmed peacekeepers” and likened their activation to similar movements for combating wildfires, or more pertinently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic currently going on in background to the demonstrations. He added that Guardsmen would only respond at the request of local leaders.
Inslee noted that the impacts of COVID-19 had disproportionately affected communities of color, with higher infection rates in black and hispanic Washingtonians than the per-capita rate and black workers hit harder by job loss.
The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 showed that inequities for the black community were greater than the injustice of Floyd’s death, as Inslee pointed to a need to address the bigger picture of disparities for education and healthcare among others.
“I do believe we are going to make progress on this together, because we all understand our responsibilities,” Inslee remarked.
With potential for a resurgence of COVID-19 given mass gatherings for demonstrations, Inslee pleaded to demonstrators — “please protect the protestor next to you” by wearing masks and attempting to keep physical distance.
Regarding ongoing efforts from the guard, Washington State commander Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty said about 300 Guardsmen were in position in Seattle, Bellevue and Spokane for the evening.
Daugherty said that the main threat were looters at that point, “clearly criminal activity worthy of being arrested and sent to jail, but not deserving deadly force,” he explained. Should greater threats emerge he said the Guard could go to the governor to discuss increasing armaments.
Daugherty noted that Guardsmen were with groups of law enforcement that were fully armed, making a need to arm his units less necessary.
“The risk right now of an incidental shooting, I think, just outweighs the value of having people armed right now, especially when we have our police partners fully armed,” Daugherty said. “The more weapons there are at a site, the more likely you are to have an accidental shooting.”
The commander urged demonstrators to “calm down, leave your weapons at home, peacefully demonstrate as much as you want to, but let’s not make this a situation any worse than it has to be.”
Inslee remarked about a call with governors and President Donald Trump earlier in the day when the president pushed state leaders to be tougher on violence escalating from protests, calling for states to “dominate” the situation. The governor said Trump’s comments on the situation “had been rooted in a desire to fan the flames of division, rather than to call us to a higher purpose.”
“I think they (the comments) are more like rants of a very insecure man than a person asking us to find the better angels in our nature,” Inslee said. “I think the most helpful thing the president could do at this point is to enjoy silence, and let governors do the great work, and very tough work, that they are doing.”
Inslee had an emotional moment when recounting the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., learning of the activist’s death from his father. He recalled the words of statesman Robert Kennedy, who called for a rejection of the temptation of slipping into deeper divisions.
“What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion to one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer in our country,” Inslee quoted.