Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said Monday that the life of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, the 19-year-old who was shot in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone on Saturday night, “might have been saved if not for the circumstances created by hasty legislation” barring police officers from using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other “less lethal weapons” to disperse protesters.
Best made her comments at a press conference Monday afternoon to announce the imminent shutdown of CHOP and the reopening of the East Precinct as a police station. “It is time to restore order and eliminate the violence on Capitol Hill,” Durkan said.
Best accused protesters of creating circumstances that allowed several Black men to be shot and then prevented Seattle Police Department officers, the Fire Department, and EMTs from coming in and delivering care. “I cannot stand by, not another second, and watch another black man or anyone here die in our streets while people aggressively thwart the efforts of the police and other first responders,” Best said.
The police department has presented no specific evidence to indicate that anyone at the protest was violent against police officers. In fact, both bodycam video released by SPD and the police department’s official timeline of events contradict this claim. According to the timeline, officers showed up at to a staging area on 12th and Cherry, about seven blocks from the shooting, around 2:30 in the morning and entered the area around six minutes later, when they were informed that medics had already taken the victim away. The bodycam footage shows protesters stepping aside for police while screaming that the victim has already been taken to the hospital. I don’t know what else was happening outside the frame, or how much is left out of the timeline. But what the police and mayor have offered so far are assertions, not evidence.
“SPD spent years developing the gold standard of use-of-force policy. Let that work. Allow us to use these [weapons] when absolutely necessary.”—Seattle police chief Carmen Best
And speaking of assertions: Best insisted that none of her statements were political before producing a stack of police reports and waving them in the air while asserting that “there are groups of individuals engaging in shootings, in rape, assaults, burglary, arson, and property destruction.” It’s unclear what was in the reports Best was holding or whether they indeed contained evidence that there were “groups” of people engaging in multiple assaults, rapes, and other crimes. One man was arrested last week in the and charged with sexual assault against a CHOP resident, and another man was arrested during a burglary in White Center for allegedly breaking in to an auto shop in the area and setting a desk on fire.
“This is happening,” Best continued. “We cannot walk away from the truth of what is happening here. This is not about politics and I am not a politician. This isn’t a debate about First Amendment rights—this is about life or death! So we need a plan. The council legislated away officers’ access to less lethal weapons,” Best continued—not mentioning that the legislation barring these weapons is not in effect yet—leaving officers with no options beside “a riot baton or a gun. … SPD spent years developing the gold standard of use-of-force policy. It was done in coordination with the federal monitor, the Department of Justice, and the federal court. Let that work. … Allow us to use these [weapons] when absolutely necessary.”
“The council legislated away officers’ access to less lethal weapons,” Best continued—not mentioning that the legislation barring these weapons is not in effect yet—leaving officers with no options beside “a riot baton or a gun.”
It’s unclear to what extent Durkan, who echoed Best’s narrative that police tried to respond to Saturday’s shooting but were forced to stay outside by a hostile crowd, agrees with her chief that tear gas and pepper spray could have allowed police to save Anderson’s life. Historically, and without exception, when police have attacked protesters in the area with chemical and “less-lethal” weapons, it has resulted in an escalation, not a deescalation, of conflict along with injuries to protesters, some of them grave.
Durkan may be attempting to distance herself from Best and her bellicose statements, but to what end? If she doesn’t fire the chief (and this seems vanishingly unlikely, given the optics of sacking a black female police chief who enjoys support from many Black clergy and other community members), seeming like the more “reasonable” public servant has its own obvious political advantages—including the fact that it allows the mayor to be the “good cop” when proposing a midyear budget later this week that will fail to meet one of the protesters’ chief demands: Defunding the police by 50 percent and reinvesting that money into community programs.