Violence, Destruction Mar Seattle Protests Over the Death of George Floyd

Black Lives Matter protesters march in Seattle in late May. 

A federal security detail recently deployed to the Seattle area has withdrawn after pressure from local and state officials, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced Tuesday.

The tactical team of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents had flown to the Seattle area last week to beef up security at federal buildings amid recent protests.

But after objections by officials, including Inslee, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine — who said a federal show of force could fan clashes similar to those occurring nightly in Portland — the forces departed the Seattle area.

Durkan’s office received notice of the withdrawal in an email Tuesday from John Hill, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assistant secretary.

“I have confirmed with [CBP] that their personnel demobilized and left Seattle,” Hill wrote in an email to city officials, which was provided to The Seattle Times by Durkan’s office.

While the local and state Democratic elected officials crowed about the departure, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran downplayed the significance in a statement.

“As I stated Friday, a handful of law enforcement officers were summoned to Seattle to protect our federal buildings,” Moran said. “[Seattle Police] Chief Best, who would know, saw no federal law enforcement officers clashing with protestors throughout all of this chaos. She saw none, because the officers who were summoned to Seattle were exactly where I said they would be: protecting federal buildings and the functions in those buildings.”

The precise size and location of the security team had never been revealed.

Constantine said in a tweet last week that a federal plane had landed at Boeing Field and “more than a dozen personnel” had driven away to an undisclosed location.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The withdrawal came even as U.S. Attorney General William Barr appeared before Congress to defend aggressive federal crackdowns on demonstrators.

In testimony to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Barr said “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” in major cities against police killings of Black people, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneaopolis.

Seattle’s recent protests have included spasms of vandalism, arson and injuries to demonstrators and police, but have not featured a visible show of force and blasts of tear gas by federal agents akin to the clashes with demonstrators at the U.S. Courthouse in Portland.

Durkan, Inslee and other local elected leaders had expressed concerns about the deployment they said occurred without their consultation or consent, and they hailed the departure in coordinated statements Tuesday.

“This demobilization means Washingtonians no longer have to worry about the White House’s aim to provoke confrontation and undermine peaceful protests,” Inslee said. “Those peacefully protesting have raised the public’s consciousness of the urgent need for racial justice, and I have no doubt they will continue to use their voices to call for action.”

Durkan said President Donald Trump’s efforts to target cities led by Democrats was “chilling” and had “increased violence in Portland, Seattle and other cities across the country, which was what the president intended.”

Last week Durkan said she had felt misled by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who she said had told her the agency had no plans to send federal agents to Seattle.

Constantine said the “apparent swift departure of Trump’s uninvited and unneeded federal forces is a welcome turn of events.”

It was unclear where the CBP tactical team was headed next. Moran said the unit was “needed elsewhere” and did not provide details. He said federal agents who routinely protect federal offices in the Seattle area remain on duty.

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