SPOKANE — A peaceful protest that drew thousands of people to downtown Spokane on Sunday later erupted into looting, violence and confrontations with police who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Mayor Nadine Woodward issued an immediate curfew for downtown that lasts through 5 a.m. Monday in the downtown core.
And Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has asked for the assistance of the Washington National Guard.
“By tomorrow morning, our men and women in uniform will have been on their feet for almost 24 hours, so we needed resources,” said County Commissioner Al French after asking Gov. Jay Inslee to activate 200 members of the National Guard.
The curfew is in effect for an area bordered by Division and Maple streets between Fifth to Boone avenues. Woodward said the curfew was ordered immediately “because of the civil unrest we are experiencing this evening.”
Police first fired tear gas after an initial looting incident at the Nike Factory Store downtown. Police later used rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bangs to disperse crowds congregating at Riverside Avenue and Howard Street, just east of the bus depot.
While the vast majority of protesters downtown remained peaceful, at multiple police barricades a handful of protesters pitched rocks and other small objects – including spent tear gas canisters – at the officers who stood roughly a block away. Some also spray-painted graffiti on downtown storefronts.
As it got later, small groups of people who appeared to be far-right militia members roamed the protest zone openly carrying firearms. Additionally, a handful of black-clad agitators smashed the windows of the former Observatory bar building at First Avenue and Howard Street and caused property damage to many other downtown businesses – but they were quickly confronted each time, sometimes with violence, by larger groups of protesters upset with the destruction and looting. One man was beaten by several others about one block from the Observatory for allegedly causing damage.
The protest shifts
The spark that turned the protest into violent confrontations was the looting of the Nike store on Main Avenue early Sunday evening.
A group had broken into the store and were running out of the store with stolen items. But other protesters linked arms to try and prevent more looting. Some took items out of looters’ hands and threw them back into the store through the crushed windows. When police arrived at the chaotic scene, they used tear gas to clear the area.
Protesters scattered, some around a corner. There, half a block away from police, Owen Ennis, a Black Spokane resident, knelt down and raised his hands in the air. Other protesters did the same as SWAT officers approached them slowly.
These protesters who escaped the first round of tear gas shouted “hands up, don’t shoot,” seconds before police launched canisters of the gas for the second time.
“They don’t care about Black lives, they don’t give a damn about nobody but themselves,” Ennis said, having just caught a whiff of the tear gas.
Protesters who weren’t struck ran up to pour saline in others’ burning eyes.
As people retreated, police fired more tear gas cans into Riverfront Park where crowds were gathering and homeless individuals were laying in the grass, including a woman and her dog.
Confrontation between those who remained downtown escalated throughout the night. Authorities continued to use tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bang devices to attempt to get crowds to disperse, generally in the area of Riverside Avenue and Howard Street, as well as outside Spokane City Hall.
Around 8 p.m., a water bottle was thrown at police near Riverside Avenue and Howard Street, said Logan Dechenne, of Spokane. Tear gas was deployed there and the crowd largely dispersed. Other witness disputed the claim that a water bottle was thrown.
Just before 9 p.m., another round of tear gas and rubber bullets were used at the intersection.
A masked man was seen attempting to shatter the glass of a business on Washington Street with a hammer, but others in the area stopped him before he could break it. Graffiti and smashed glass were seen elsewhere downtown.