SEATTLE — A woman who torched five Seattle police cars during a tumultuous protest that heralded a summer of unrest after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison.
Margaret Channon, 26, of Tacoma, used an aerosol can and a lighter as a makeshift flame-thrower to burn the unoccupied, parked police vehicles in downtown Seattle on May 30, soon after officers sprayed tear gas to disperse a massive crowd. For 25 minutes she ran back and forth between the cars, adding fire as necessary to destroy them.
The burning police cars became some of the most indelible images of Seattle’s unrest — overshadowing the thousands who demonstrated for racial justice with justifiable anger, but who were nevertheless peaceful, Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg told U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour.
“She wasn’t alone, but Ms. Channon set the tone for what that protest became moving forward,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said. “Ms. Channon left downtown Seattle in flames and in billowing smoke.”
In cities across the United States, protesters fed up with seeing Black people killed by police faced off against heavily armed officers, with some smashing cruisers, ransacking businesses and setting fires. In Seattle, demonstrators went on to seize an area of several city blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood — the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest — and police for a time abandoned the East Precinct building.
Channon, who also acknowledged smashing a store window and busting the cash register at a sandwich shop, was the fifth and final defendant sentenced in federal court for actions related to the civil unrest in Seattle.
Kelly Jackson received more than three years for throwing Molotov cocktails at Seattle police vehicles on May 30. Tyre Means got five years for burning one Seattle police vehicle and stealing a firearm out of another that day. Desmond David-Pitts and Isaiah Willoughby received 20 and 24 months, respectively, for setting fires at the East Precinct.
Channon apologized in a letter to the court and through a sentencing memo filed by her lawyer, acknowledging that the Black Lives Matter movement does not condone illegal acts and that as a white woman it was not her place to co-opt the cause.
“I apologize to the many workers and activists — who have given decades of their lives to building a countermeasure to police violence — that did not want to see fire,” Channon wrote. “I had intended to effect positive change, but my attempt was misguided.”
Her mother, Elizabeth MacGahan, wrote her own letter to the court, saying Channon grew up in a family with a long history of civil service and citing the destabilizing effects of the pandemic, the protests and the recent deaths of her two beloved grandmothers as possible factors in her actions.
“It’s a very difficult time to be young and sensitive, and to suffer losses,” she said.