Protesters in Seattle broke through a fence Saturday where a youth detention facility was being built, with some people setting a fire and damaging a portable trailer, authorities said.
Thousands of protesters ad gathered near downtown Seattle on Saturday in a show of solidarity with fellow demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, where tensions with federal law enforcement have boiled over.
Initially there was no sign of law enforcement near the march. Later, Seattle Police said via Twitter that about a dozen people breached the construction site for the King County youth detention facility. Also, police said protesters broke out windows at a King County court facility.
Police said they were trying to secure the construction site so fire crews could move in. Earlier this week King County Executive Dow Constantine, in response to long-standing demands by community activists, said he would work to eliminate youth detention centers in the county by 2025.
Seattle’s protesters had begun the rally and march over racial injustices Saturday afternoon peacefully.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best had announced officers would be armed with pepper spray and other weapons in a statement Saturday morning, promising officers would not use tear gas and urging demonstrators to remain peaceful.
“In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence,” Best said.
At an emergency hearing on Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart granted a request from the federal government to block Seattle’s new law prohibiting police from using pepper spray, blast balls and similar weapons.
The temporary restraining order now halts the law that the Seattle City Council passed unanimously last month after protests confrontations that have largely been peaceful but were occasionally marked by violence, looting and highway shutdowns. The law intended to de-escalate tensions between police and demonstrators was set to take effect on Sunday.
But the U.S. Department of Justice, citing Seattle’s longstanding police consent decree, successfully argued that banning the use of crowd control weapons could actually lead to more police use of force, leaving them only with more deadly weapons.
Robart, who is presiding over a 2012 consent decree requiring the city to address allegations of excessive force and biased policing, said the issue needed more discussion between the city and the Justice Department before that law could go into effect.
Best said Robart’s order allows officers to use the less-lethal crowd management tools.
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