Downtown Olympia is expected to be quieter this weekend after about 40 demonstrators marched the streets Thursday night to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest two fatal police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Demonstrators gathered in front of Olympia City Hall on Thursday night, holding “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanting slogans against police. Multiple altercations broke out between protesters, bystanders, and people trying to drive through crowds that blocked the streets.
No one was arrested as a result, said Lt. Paul Lower of the Olympia Police Department. As of Friday afternoon, only one person had reported damage to a vehicle, although were numerous anecdotal reports of broken windows and snapped antennas.
Olympia resident Caro Gonzales, who helped organize Thursday’s demonstration, said no protests have been planned for Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Gonzales said the goal Thursday night was to create a place to gather and grieve the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings while also calling attention to Olympia’s shortcomings — specifically the sometimes contentious relationship between police and minorities or homeless youth.
“We like to say we’re progressive, but that’s false,” Gonzales told The Olympian. “We went out to have a peaceful protest and people tried to run us over and attack us all night.”
It was not clear if the protesters were aware of events in Dallas, which started about 7 p.m. Pacific time. Twelve police officers were shot, five fatally, by a sniper with an assault rifle. Gonzales declined to comment on the Dallas shootings.
Protesters blocked streets as they walked and when vehicles moved through or around them, some broke car windows, kicked in doors and ripped off antennas.
“Black Lives Matter”
“Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go”
“No justice, no peace, no racist police”
Shortly after 8 p.m., the group moved to the onramp for northbound I-5 at Plum Street. Washington State troopers arrived at the scene at about the same time, and talked the group into walking back toward downtown Olympia.
When protesters walked off the on-ramp, they were met by about 10 patrol cars and 20 police officers in riot gear.
One police officer ordered the crowd to disperse. A few protesters continued to walk forward and two got into a scuffle with officers. One grabbed a nightstick out of the officer’s hand and threw it to the ground. Officers then wrestled two protesters to the ground. Officers then fired pellets at the people who were resisting them.
Then a shouting match broke out between the protesters and the police. Police said again that the protesters needed to disperse. Protesters responded that they were just trying to get backdowntown.
The group walked back to City Hall, blocking the streets as they walked.
Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby said Thursday’s protests were discouraging in light of the progress the community has made in creating better police relations. The city’s effort was sparked by the May 2015 shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin by an Olympia police officer who had responded to a shoplifting call. In response, the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations was formed and held several public discussions.
“I’m really impressed with how our community has pulled together over the past year after our own situation,” said Selby, noting that this week’s protest “just shows how fragile this whole situation is across the nation.”
Karen Johnson, a founder of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, said Friday morning that the group was not involved in the Thursday protests.
She said the Black Alliance is about being leaders in the community, and having courageous conversations with local law enforcement. She said she doesn’t condone or condemn the protests.
“It’s time to stop the hate and violence,” Johnson said. “It’s time to come together and be a community together.”
Johnson said the alliance has no planned protests at this time.
Lower said Olympia police will notify the public via Twitter if any protests or road closures arise.
“We are here to help people in the exercise of their First Amendment rights and attempt to make the area they choose to do so safe from traffic interference,” Lower wrote in an email. “We have the resources available this weekend to accommodate these events if needed.”
Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and Johnson issued a joint statement Friday afternoon in response to this week’s events.
“We are at a time in our country where violence is pulling communities apart. We must come together to address longstanding challenges between our black communities and law enforcement. We recognize that police violence is real and that prejudice exists. Violence against police, those whom we entrust the responsibility to keep us safe, and police violence against the people without accountability are not acceptable solutions.
“The solutions lie in moving toward each other, demonstrating a sense of unity and ownership for making our communities safe. We must focus our efforts on a culture of respect and equity for all. Building strong, trusting relationships and sound policing practices are critical to creating safe communities.”
The Thursday night protest was mostly peaceful once the group came to a stop in the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street, although there were minor incidents throughout the night.
At about 9 p.m., a pickup truck drove the wrong way down Fourth Avenue and dropped off a couch in the intersection.
About 10 p.m., a shirtless man ran through the crowd shouting “White Power,” but he was quickly shouted down, and he left. The crowd then set fire to a shirt.
At about 11 p.m., a man set up a drum set in the middle of Fourth Avenue. A second man began playing a saxophone. A protester knocked over the drum set, and a scuffle ensued. When asked what “side” he was on, the drummer said he was “for everybody.”
The crowd dispersed about 11:30 p.m.
Officers from Olympia and Lacey police departments, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol all were on the scene.