Saturday, November 25, 2017

Black Lives Matter Marchers Meet Black Friday Shoppers in Seattle
Demonstration at Westlake Park smaller than prior years

By Stephen Cohen, SeattlePI
7:54 pm, Friday, November 24, 2017
Media: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A somewhat subdued throng of demonstrators demanding justice for African-Americans killed by police officers marched and protested Friday in downtown Seattle to greet Black Friday shoppers descending on the city's commercial core.

A few hundred protesters -- much fewer than the 11,000-plus who indicated their interest in attending on the event's Facebook page -- gathered, then marched, then reassembled at Westlake Center, redirecting holiday shoppers amid chants of "Black lives matter."

Friday marked the fourth consecutive year Seattle played host to a Black Lives Matter march on Black Friday, the day that's become synonymous with retailers offering once-a-year deals to entice holiday shoppers.

The demonstrators gathered around noon at Westlake Park, their chants jarringly contrasted with the versions of "Feliz Navidad" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" blaring through speakers outside the shopping center.

The march took the crowd down Pine Street before turning north on First Avenue. At one point, marchers attempted to head down Stewart Street to Pike Place Market, but Seattle Police bicycle officers blocked the intersection and forced them back toward downtown.

The predominantly white crowd of protesters, a couple of whom wore jerseys of NFL quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick, mostly stuck to chanting and holding up signs, but a few yelled at police officers and hecklers on the route. Erin Stewart, holding a sign reading, "It's my responsibility to dismantle white supremacy," has attended Black Friday marches each of the last three years. She wasn't dismayed by the turnout or the demographics of the attendees.

"I try not to pay attention to numbers," she said. "I think that the way it has evolved to be the focus on the white people ... is a very welcome shift. I think that that's an appropriate morph for this organization in Seattle."

After being diverted by police, the marchers made their way back to Westlake Center, where they formed a human chain that blocked entrance to the southern end of the mall. They continued to chant while a line of SPD officers served as a buffer between them and the shopping center doors.

Activist Marguerite Richard said she marched to make sure officers who killed African-Americans -- like pregnant mother Charleena Lyles, who was gunned down by two SPD officers in June -- were held accountable.

"It's not OK for you to just kill somebody," Richard, an African-American, said. "The (SPD) review board doesn't look like me, but you just killed somebody that looks like me. See, that's bias, and we've got to take all that away. We've got to wipe it out. There's just no place for it."

Gradually, protesters left as families filled the park outside the mall in anticipation of the lighting of a large Christmas tree.

"I can't believe they can't ban them from (demonstrating) for one day," said a woman who showed up for the tree lighting.

By the time the tree lit up, accompanied by fireworks and an appearance by Santa Claus, only a few dozen vocal protesters remained.

Last year, a few protesters clashed with police and security when they attempted to force their way into Westlake Center. But the demonstration was nonviolent and no property destruction occurred.

The Black Lives Matter movement has found fertile ground in Seattle since its founding in 2013.

Local BLM organizer Nikkita Oliver finished third in the city's mayoral primary election in August.

City teachers donned T-shirts reading “Black Lives Matter” in a show of solidarity with students of color. Two protesters from the movement cut presidential candidate Bernie Sanders short during a 2016 campaign visit, and high-profile Seattleites like Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett have embraced the movement. reporter Stephen Cohen can be reached at 206-448-8313 or Follow Stephen on Twitter at @scohenPI.

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