Posts Tagged ‘seattle’

No, protesters did not try to burn down the Seattle East Precinct

Sunday, October 1st, 2023

The Seattle Times’ statement that “[During the] summer of 2020 … protesters tried to burn down the East Precinct” is not a true and fair account of the facts. [ST 2022-10-04] The much less sensational truth is well-documented below:

  • The group of “protesters” did not try to burn the East Precinct. In fact, protesters as a group protected the East Precinct and even extinguished one of the three fires that were set.
  • There were fires, but not serious attempts at arson. In three separate instances, fires were set outside at or near the East Precinct, but the building was never ignited.
  • The perpetrators were isolated and caught. The key perpetrators of all three fires have been identified and charged. The three cases were not related.

Background and Facts

Following the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, protests nationwide varied in intensity.

Arson in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, unsurprisingly, saw the most intense protests in 2020, since it was there that the Floyd murder took place. Minneapolis saw activity fairly characterized as riots on several nights in late May.

On May 28, 2020, protesters surrounded the Minneapolis police third precinct building. Arsons of buildings on surrounding blocks had occurred over the prior day, including by provocateurs not affiliated with the protest. [NYT 2020-07-03] Vandals breached the doors of the precinct house and according to press reports, the Minneapolis mayor ordered the building evacuated. During and after the evacuation of the precinct, dozens of smaller fires were started inside, eventually causing the structure to catch fire and burn to a total loss. [NYT 2021-04-28]

Seattle’s single riot and escalating protests

The only true riot of 2020 in Seattle was on May 30, when after an afternoon of escalating clashes with police, roving groups ran unopposed through several blocks of downtown, smashed glass and looted stores, stole and fired police rifles, burned police cars, and set building fires through the evening. [ST 2020-05-31] Reports claiming later events to be “riots” are sensationalism. The police “declared a riot” at other times, but a fair-minded historian would call those times, such as the June 1, 2020 “umbrella incident,” skirmish-line clashes.

Part of the escalation on May 30 was the heavy-handed police response. [ST 2020-06-02] Whether or not the May 30 police actions were justified, they magnified the city’s outrage. Subsequent and growing protests included some extreme elements, but were in large measure drawn from a wide swath of the community. By the first week of June, a minimum of 10,000 citizens had been in the streets of the city in protest. [CC 2020-06-10]

The focus during these subsequent protests shifted from being solely focused on George Floyd and police racism, and now included condemnation of Seattle’s police and mayor.

Location shifts to East Precinct

Starting the first week of June, recurring protest activity moved to Capitol Hill — the dense, liberal, diverse, and protester-friendly neighborhood a half-mile uphill from the downtown core. The hill is also home to the Seattle Police East Precinct building (“EP”), adjacent to which a recurring “skirmish line” tended to form.

After a week of clashes of varying intensity, the Seattle Police department abruptly evacuated the East Precinct on June 8, 2020. They left the building essentially unprotected, except for plywood and Cyclone fencing. The response of protesters was to paint over the signage (“Seattle People Department”), and then to post sentries to prevent damage to the building. [KN 2020-06-09]

The police department would return to the building weeks later on July 1, 2020. [ST 2020-07-01]

Fires and the East Precinct

There were three distinct incidents that involve fires at or around EP that summer:

June 12, 2020 (early morning) — ITW Fire. A single vandal (ITW) pours gas or some other accelerant onto a pile of wood and paper along the fence outside of the EP and lights it. As he absconds, a hue and cry goes up within seconds among the surrounding protesters, who awaken and rush to put it out, running over jugs of water and “scattering the burning debris and using handheld fire extinguishers.” [WDWA 2020-07-14]

August 24, 2020 (night) — DDP Fire. A vandal (DDP) with an unknown number of accomplices uses an accelerant and bags of trash to start a fire within the “sally port” area of the EP. Disturbingly, accomplices make (amateurish) efforts to block the nearest exit door from opening outwards. Within minutes, SPD officers arrive to knock down the fire with portable extinguishers, and SFD arrives thereafter. No structural damage is reported. [ST 2021-01-25]

September 1, 2020 (night) — JG/DM Fire. Two vandals (JG and DM) with an accomplice throw a total of three (3) Molotov-type glass bottles toward the EP. Only one hits the building, while the others hit the fence and a light post. An additional accomplice may have been trying to blind security cameras, but did not throw a Molotov. [KCSC 2021-12-13]

How is the Seattle Times’ statement misleading?

Although there are some facts behind the statement, there are more facts that are needed in order to understand the truth in a way that is not misleading.

Protesters actually tried to protect the East Precinct

Protesters tried to protect the East Precinct, including specifically from a fire. The single most persusasive evidence here is the actual footage of the ITW fire [YT 2020-06-12]:

Anybody around the EP at 3:00 AM on that day was likely a protester — including ITW, the man who poured gas onto the side of the EP. However, the one-minute video clearly shows at least 15 of those protesters reacting by shouting “water, water” and running toward the fire to extinguish it, which they successfully did.

It’s clear that the ITW fire does not support the Seattle Times’ statement, but in fact, tends to support the diametrically opposite interpretation: namely, that protesters as a group tried not to burn down the EP.

Following the ITW fire, and for the entire remainder of the CHOP/CHAZ period during which the EP was vacant, there were no recorded arson attempts. Whether or not the CHOP/CHAZ protesters deserve credit for that, they certainly don’t deserve blame for fires that never happened.

Ineffective fires are not obviously “trying to burn down” the EP

The later two fires were set by more than one person, clearly protesters of some stripe, even if they were mentally ill or deficient. But can we fairly consider these as actual attempts to burn down the EP? We should take them individually, and with some important context about what what “trying to burn down” the EP would require.

The EP is a masonry building, equipped with interior sprinklers. [KC 2023-08-20] Every bicycle and patrol car in the garage is equipped with a fire extinguisher and/or Cold Fire bottle, in addition to the usual complement of up-to-code extinguishers in the building. Seattle Fire Department station house #25 is literally one block kiddy-corner uphill at 13th and Pine — in a pinch, Ladder 10 might even be able to hit the East Precinct with its elevated hose while parked at the station. [AM 2023-10-01]

If you are trying to set a masonry building on fire, you will need to get a critical mass of flammable inside material ablaze faster than suppression efforts can take effect. You can’t do it by lighting the bricks or concrete from outside. When the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct was set afire, it was in the time after the building had been evacuated, giving several parties of arsonists time to spread throughout the building committing their crimes. It was reported in the NYT that there were “nearly four dozen separate places of origin” in the Minneapolis precinct fire. [NYT 2021-04-28]

Both of the following, most serious incidents, occurred 1-2 months after Seattle Police had re-occupied the EP on July 1, 2020. This makes the acts both more egregious, because they were fires set at an occupied premise, but also less efficacious, because they were sure to be suppressed by a trained and equipped force on site.

DDP Fire

The DDP fire was clearly the most serious event: it involved the most participants, who can fairly be considered protesters. You can see the action starting at 2:29 in this video (around 23:36 in the timestamp overlay; apologies, there does not appear to be any way to embed this video in-line)

At 2:30:08 you can see several figures moving in and out of the top left corner, and a small flame burning on the sidewalk. By 2:31:30 there are probably around 10 figures who have moved in and out., and by 2:33:00 there are significant visible flames. By 2:34:45, SPD has chased off the arsonists and begins to mitigate the fire. By 2:37:30, the flames appear completely extinguished.

Some of those people moving in and out through the smoke had piled up trash and lighter fluid against the doors inside the loading dock area and lit it. They then squirted sealant into the door mechanisms, threatening to seize up the doors’ movements. Others had stacked more trash on the flames, but what burned was the trash and the accelerant, not the building.

The fire lasted about five minutes, and was constrained to the outside of the building. Effectively, there was no structural damage. The fire was an emotionally evocative symbol, but was not a serious attempt to set the building on fire.

JG/DM Fire

The September fire was also clearly the work of more than one person in concert, and those people were clearly protesters. However, the JG/DM fire was also not a serious attempt.

JG and DM each carried a Molotov cocktail and threw it at the building, as did an accomplice. Only one hit the building; the others hit a fence and a light post. While it’s possible that they could have gotten lucky and managed to get a Molotov in through an open door or window, these were in practice ineffectual gestures. It’s plausible JG and DM might have wanted to be more effectual, but were too dumb or naive, and so this attempt was not serious, either (he was 19 at the time which is why he used “O’Douls” non-alcoholic beer bottles; his older co-conspirator wanted him to use his parents’ alcohol or “cheap vodka” as fuel). [KCSC 2021-12-13]

Thought Experiment: what if protesters actually had tried to burn the EP?

Combining the statement “protesters tried to burn down the EP” with the fact that the EP never was burned down, would tend to imply that the protesters as a group tried but were unable. That is not plausible, as I describe below. It’s far more plausible that there was never any serious effort by the protesters to burn down the EP — because they certainly could have at several points.

The CHOP/CHAZ weeks reveal lack of intent or attempt to burn the EP

Between the night of June 8 and the morning of July 1, the East Precinct was evacuated and boarded up, and the area surrounding the nearby park was termed “CHOP/CHAZ” and was effectively a police-free zone. Immediately upon the pull-out of SPD from EP, the building exterior was vandalized by painting, and tents were set up around its perimeter, creating a visual if physically ineffectual “occupation” of the site. There were reports of rumors of some incursions inside of the boarded-up building, but the building itself was not “occupied” nor opened up — it remained boarded up and surrounded.

If protesters as a group — or even a meaningful subset of them — had intent to try to burn down the precinct, there were nearly four full weeks during which there was effectively no physical or law enforcement impediment. The EP was a sitting duck for the entirety of the “CHOP/CHAZ” period. During that time, only one fire was attempted, by one perpetrator, and it was immediately put out by an overwhelming group of standers-by — protesters themselves.

Why does this matter?

It troubled me that the Seattle paper of record — which has generally been fairly even-handed about describing the facts of 2020 — chose to put a sensational spin on these events, in a way that even its own reporting shows to be misleading. This should matter to you, too, for several reasons.

Because truth matters to our posterity

History and memory depend on how journalists and others write about the facts of 2020. There are many ways to describe a situation that may be factually true but more or less misleading. Truth is its own virtue, and we ill serve future citizens by writing history out of selective, incomplete facts that tend to mislead.

It is equally factually true to say that “protesters successfully banded together to stop a fire at the unprotected East Precinct,” as it is to say that “protesters tried to burn down the EP.” But neither sentence says enough to actually illuminate what happened that summer, and so either statement alone tends to mislead.

Because America at this moment needs more calm understanding, not more polarization

The history of 2020 is plenty fascinating and exciting without needing to exaggerate or sensationalize. Despite this, however, a lot of media have created sensational portrayals, whether to garner attention and sell ads, or to grind a partisan axe. The “attention economy” rewards the sensational.

Sensationalism is polarizing and inflaming to the body politic. America today needs more calm and rational assessment, and less inflamed rhetoric and polarization.

If you go around telling people who aren’t from Seattle the factually true-ish but misleading statement, “protesters tried to burn down the East Precinct in 2020,” you are leading them down the primrose path to several conclusions that don’t actually follow:

  • The protesters as a group support arson.
  • The protesters are as a group therefore bad people.
  • The cause of the protesters is therefore suspect or tainted.
  • I should oppose the protesters and their cause(s) just as strongly as I oppose arson!

If that kind of persuasion is the goal, here’s how to achieve it (at what moral cost?). But it is a dishonest means to a political end. It isn’t accurate or truthful. It is arson against the truth, in service of your own counter-protest.

Because this same rhetorical dishonesty can be turned any way

If you set a norm of treating truth this way, it might be turned immediately against you, as well. For example, consider the 2020 SPD vehicular intimidation incidents.

Seattle Police employee vehicular menacing example

During 2020’s protests, there were several incidents during which Seattle Police personnel menaced or assaulted protesters with motor vehicles in ways that could have led, but ultimately did not lead, to protesters being run over.

It is incontrovertible that during 2020, certain personnel from the Seattle Police drove their vehicles in a way that created alarm and required mitigating action from the victims to avoid being run over.

It would, however, be misleading to state “in the summer of 2020, the Seattle Police tried to run over protesters.” Here, as with the EP fires, the wrongdoing was by a subset, not the consensus policy of the group; the wrongdoing was ultimately not effective at what was purportedly the goal; and, it’s plainly obvious that the wrongdoers in each case would have had ample opportunity to actually achieve their goal with trivial barriers, if that had really been their intent.

On more calmly and clearly assessing the events of 2020

The following might make you more or less on edge to ponder, but consider: at virtually every protest event of scale in Seattle, there were multiple firearms on both sides of any skirmish line. I observed at least one open-carry sidearm and a variety of “fast-action gun bags” or similar long-gun concealment options personally while on the ground in 2020-2021.

Indeed, we have about one (1.1) guns per person in the US, mostly handguns. We also have about one (0.75) car per person in the US, each of which is more lethal than a handgun as a weapon against a crowd. So it’s not only fair to estimate that every protester had access to lethal weapons that could have been used against the police line, it’s factual to note that several of them actually carried such weapons. And, of course, it’s trivial to see that every cop on the line had at least one gun.

And yet, despite the violence on the skirmish lines during 2020, and despite the fact that both sides of that line had ready access to lethal weapons — there were no deaths. There weren’t even shots fired across the line. (This refers to between protesters and on-duty police; sadly, there were both gunshot wounds and vehicular homicide committed by others, or at other times.)

The conclusion here should be that — however much you may condemn various actions of various parties during the Seattle 2020 protests — the core clash between protesters and police was not unlimited or unrestrained. It had at all times the potential to be much worse — a holster-draw away from a potential bloodbath — and yet it never did.

Please, think of this principle when talking to your ranting FOX News uncle, or your firebrand ACAB cousin, both of whom have been amped up on conflict propaganda, about what happened in 2020. And if you are in a position of wider influence in the media, please consider the factual and logical content here and apply a similarly even hand to your coverage.

Appendix: Timeline

During CHOP / CHAZ

– 2020-06-08 (Monday) daytime. The Seattle PD evacuates the East Precinct. A metal fence and concrete jersey barrier perimeter is left surrounding the building, and the windows are boarded up with what appears to be ordinary plywood. [KN 2020-06-09]

– 2022-06-08 night. Seattle Police try to draw people away from Capitol Hill by broadcasting false threats of armed right-wing militia on publicly-available dispatch radio. The ruse instead results in protesters taking up arms and invigilating the entire area, including the EP. [ST 2022-01-05]

– 2022-06-09. The “CHOP/CHAZ” area surrounding EP is first declared. [CHS 2020-06-09]

– 2020-06-12 3:00 AM. ITW Fire. [WDWA 2020-07-14]

– 2020-06-13 – 2020-06-30. CHOP / CHAZ descends into a very nasty place, as criminal score-settling and overanxious self-defense result in several deaths and woundings.

– 2020-07-01. CHOP / CHAZ area is disbanded by order of the Mayor, enforced by over 100 SPD officers who are met with minimal resistance. [ST 2020-07-01]


– 2020-07-01 – 2020-08-31. Throughout July and August, protests continue frequently.

– 2020-08-24 night. DDP Fire. [ST 2021-01-25]

– 2020-08-31. Meteorological summer ends.

– 2020-09-01 night. JG/DM Fire. [KCSC 2021-12-13]

– 2020-09-22. Autumnal Equinox (Astronomical summer ends)


  1. Beekman, Daniel. “Seattle Police Faked Radio Chatter about Proud Boys as CHOP Formed in 2020, Investigation Finds.” Seattle Times, January 5, 2022. [ST 2022-01-05]
  2. Bick, Carolyn. “Person Claiming to Be SPD Officer Drives Onto Crowded Sidewalk, Calls Protestors ‘Cockroaches.’” South Seattle Emerald, August 18, 2020. [SSE 2020-08-18]
  3. “CASE SUMMARY – REPORT OF INVESTIGATION.” Seattle Office of Police Accountability, 2020OPA-0545, September 4, 2020. [OPA 2020-09-04]
  4. Green, Sara Jean. “Seattle Police Recruits Study the People They’ll Serve.” Seattle Times, October 4, 2022. [ST 2022-10-04]
  5. Justin “jseattle” Seattle. “‘Welcome to Free Capitol Hill’ — Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Forms around Emptied East Precinct — UPDATE.” CHS Capitol Hill Seattle News, June 9, 2020. [CHS 2020-06-09]
  6. Kamb, Lewis. “Seattle Police Continue to Use ‘Flash-Bang’ Grenades during Protests, despite Recommendations.” Seattle Times, June 2, 2020. [ST 2020-06-02]
  7. Kiley, Brendan, Ryan Blethen, Sydney Brownstone, and Daniel Beekman. “Seattle Police Clear CHOP Protest Zone.” Seattle Times, July 1, 2020. [ST 2020-07-01]
  8. “King County Department of Assessments: EReal Property.” Accessed August 20, 2023. [KC 2023-08-20]
  9. Michelson, Alan. “Pacific Coast Architecture Database – City of Seattle, Fire Department (SFD), Station #25, Second Station, Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA.” Accessed October 1, 2023. [AM 2023-10-01]
  10. Paybarah, Azi. “Burning of Police Station After George Floyd’s Death Draws 4-Year Sentence.” New York Times, April 28, 2021, sec. U.S. [NYT 2021-04-28]
  11. Seattle Police Department. “East Precinct Arson 6/12/2020.” YouTube, June 12, 2020. [YT 2020-06-12]
  12. Seattle Police Department. “SPD Investigating Boren and Olive Way Collision Involving Off-Duty Officer.” SPD Blotter, July 4, 2020. [SP 2020-07-04]
  13. Seattle Times staff. “Seattle Mayor, Police Face Questions over Response to George Floyd Protests, Downtown Turmoil.” Seattle Times, May 31, 2020. [ST 2020-05-31]
  14. “State v Greenberg (Statement of Defendant).” King County Superior Court (WA), 20-1-07403-5 SEA, December 13, 2021. [KCSC 2021-12-13]
  15. Stockman, Farah. “‘They Have Lost Control’: Why Minneapolis Burned.” The New York Times, July 3, 2020, sec. U.S. [NYT 2020-07-03]
  16. Subpixel Alchemist. “#seattleprotest #seattleprotests #seattleprotestcomms,” August 24, 2020.
  17. Sun, Deedee. “Armed Protesters Protect East Precinct Police Building after Officers Leave Area.” KIRO 7 News, June 9, 2020. [KN 2020-06-09]
  18. Takahama, Elise. “Alaska Man Pleads Guilty to Helping Set Fire at Seattle Police East Precinct Last Summer.” Seattle Times, January 25, 2021, sec. Law & Justice. [ST 2021-01-25]
  19. “USA v Willoughby (Complaint).” Western District of Washington, 2:20-mj-00425-BAT, July 14, 2020. [WDWA 2020-07-14]
  20. Weinberger, Hannah. “Seattle Health Workers March to Expose Racism as a Health Crisis.” Crosscut, June 10, 2020. [CC 2020-06-10]

Sun Beams, Snow Banks, and Small Businesses

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Seattle was inundated yesterday by a steady snowfall during which it was cold, then warmer, then colder again: AKA, a recipe for icy road disaster (at least in a city of 142 square miles with 26 snowplows).

Today’s morning news and communications, then, were dominated by transportation-related issues.  “Schools are closed!”  “Courts closed!” “Clinics closed!”  “Stay home by all means!”

That wasn’t an option today at RevenueLoan — we had a closed deal to paper and two more to work on.  So I put on the hiking boots and the bubblegoose, and navigated foot-mobile through the mostly-closed Seattle streets.

And, while abnormality was the order of the day — 30 year old Seattleites sledding and sliding around like giddy 5th graders, hilly streets barricaded, and creep-crawling traffic throughout the day on main highways — what struck me most was the acute normality of the day for the small businesses I passed.

Local printing company — “open” for business.  Our caffeinated home-away-from home at Moka’s Cafe — check.  Tiny bookstore slinging used paperbacks and tacky tourist t-shirts — you bet.

The office windows across the street from mine, usually packed until 6 or 6:30 with yuppies at an Anonymous Top Online Retailer, are empty at 4:30.  A Major Local Operating System Vendor was beseeching people to stay home.  And, that’s fine — arguably most of the people out there driving today were assholes endangering themselves and others (at least if my anecdotal observations can be extrapolated).

But there’s something heartening about seeing that neon “Open” sign lit up — not the giant custom one in the corporate standard font, but the red-and-blue one you can buy at Costco when you’re first hanging a shingle.  Something heartening about the proud real-estate guy giving the walking tour to prospective tenants on pavement he just scraped and salted.  Something heartening about the beer distributor’s careful truck maneuvers as he pulls up to the corner bar to restock it for happy hour.

OK, fine, cynics: I know that these people are responding to the iron economic law that governs small business, and the simple reality that fixed costs don’t go away.  There is no East-coast failover data center for the guy who makes sandwiches on the corner, and there’s no corporate balance sheet to pay him his take-home if he no-shows.

But I think it’s more than that.  People doing their work because the work itself is valuable.  Yes, bonds have value.  Yes, big corporate edifices have power.  But imagine a world of 6 billion bondholder rentiers.  Who makes a tasty Jambo sandwich?  Who actually prints up your annual reports?  The work we do, cumulatively, is what makes humanity wealthy (and human, for that matter).

And those small businesses are the individual loci of non-abstractable human work.  The smallest functional unit that can deliver the value they do.  And they show up despite the snow.

So maybe it was the bright sun in the sky, reflecting off of the snowpack, and giving a blessed vitamin-D-blast on a Seattle winter’s day.  But something about the walk this morning, and the “open for [small] business!” that came to me from shop windows and storefronts, gave me a cheer.