On Monday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan instituted yet another citywide curfew, starting at 6 p.m. and going through 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. This was the third night of curfews in a row, following a weekend of tense protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
The announcement said that the curfew would not be enforced “except for violations that result in public health and safety threats including fires, extensive property damage, and violence.” During the curfew hours, business owners are not allowed to have customers and are “strongly encouraged to secure their place of business and stay in a safe place.”
In Monday’s press conference, Durkan said police made no arrests over the weekend for violators of the curfews, even as some protests continued after hours (on Saturday, the mayor’s office sent out an emergency citywide alert at 5:03 p.m., minutes after the curfew was implemented, giving people little time to clear the downtown area). Gov. Jay Inslee deployed members of the National Guard to King County over the weekend to provide additional security.
The primary purpose of the curfew, according to local officials, was to clear space for first responders personnel to address emergencies. But Durkan and Seattle police chief Carmen Best also cited destructive incidents across the city, which they said contributed to the curfew decision. “People with ill intent are hijacking those demonstrations,” said Best.
Officials acknowledged the undercurrents of injustice and racism driving these protests, but took pains to draw a line between what they considered more lawful peaceful protests, and those who vandalized property or caused other damage.
The mayor and the police department have come under scrutiny for what many perceived as aggressive tactics in engaging with protesters over the weekend. Both Durkan and Best defended those actions Monday, saying that the curfew and SPD response were justified, given the complicated circumstances.
“We had vehicle fires, we had Molotov cocktails being thrown at officers … we had thousands of people pouring onto the freeway, all of this while thousands of people were gathering peacefully to protest what is a huge injustice and a reflection of a greater injustice in our nation’s history,” said Durkan. “We will continue to do everything we can to allow people to protest peacefully regardless of the content of their protests. What we cannot tolerate is people acting criminally.”
A few protests were planned for Monday across the city, and some restaurants downtown that have been open for takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Rachel’s Ginger Beer at Pike Place Market, were preparing to close out of safety for their staff and solidarity for the demonstrations. Other chefs and restaurateurs have echoed support for protesters. Businesses in the U Village were boarded up late Monday afternoon.
Other cities, such as New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Atlanta, have instituted curfews over the past few days. But the effectiveness of ordering emergency curfews — and increasing the presence of police to enforce them — remains unclear, per a Vox.com story from May 31. “Some experts have raised concerns about the way curfews are likely to be enforced in communities of color and argue they could exacerbate the very dynamics that gave rise to the unrest in the first place: namely, that they will encourage confrontational policing at a time when people are demanding the opposite,” according to that report.