By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows people to peaceably assemble and protest against unjust or unlawful acts, and things that they don’t agree with or think are wrong. However, recent demonstrations at or near the private homes of public officials has many people questioning the legal right to assemble and protest versus the personal rights, safety and privacy of public officials and their families.
Over the weekend, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s property in Lynnwood, Washington was the most recent scene of protest as protestors descended upon her home to protest police brutality and to advocate for the defunding of police.
The incident took place last Saturday around 6:50 pm. According to Snohomish County Sheriffs office, protestors and their vehicles lined the streets of a small, quiet residential neighborhood and the residence of Chief Best.
According to reports, a diverse crowd of about 200 people convened around the home of Best. Neighbors, who wanted to remain anonymous for the safety of their families, witnessed how seemingly organized this protest was as protestors carried walkie talkies and placed numbers on their cars for identification purposes.
Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Forney says that his office has been supportive of the organizers’ right to protest, but is concerned about the targeting involved in some of the protests.
“The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office has been supportive and accommodating to all peaceful protest that have occurred in our jurisdiction,” said Fortney in a statement released by his office. “With that said, protestors targeting one individual’s house is a bullying tactic that will certainly require an extra patrol response to ensure every resident in Snohomish County can feel safe in their own home.”
While protests play a vital role in a democracy, they can be unpredictable due to the diversity of people who may become involved, and as we’ve seen here locally that there can be a stark difference among protestors as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Chukundi Salisbury, a State Representative candidate in the 37th District, believes that there is a thin line in how protests should be carried out.
“I think that it is a slippery slope, says Salisbury. “There is this expectation from protestors that they are going to intimidate folks, however, this is America and people are going to defend their property.”
“We have a process to make change in this country and to pressure your elected officials,” Salisbury continued. “What we don’t want to happen is for someone to feel threatened, and what I don’t want to see is someone getting hurt. So, yes it is a very thin line when it comes to protesting in front of the homes of officials.”
Felicia Cross, a community outreach program director for the Seattle Police Department, is also disturbed by that tactics used by protestors to descend on the personal property of public officials.
“I think that there is a very thin line [in regards to protesting on private property],” says Cross. “I feel like what happened to Chief Best is totally unacceptable.”
“This is their job but when you start to impede on people’s families, shake the security of people’s family and children that is a whole other story,” adds Cross. “We have gotten [too] far away from the purpose behind George Floyd of putting an end to police killings at the hands of bad apples and holding them accountable.”
One of the main issues that protestors are advocating for is the defunding of the police due to their belief that it will help begin the process of restoring public trust by all communities and curb the incidences of police brutality and the murder of innocent people by police without accountability.
While the notion of defunding the police appears to be well thought out by some activist/organization, the broad consensus is that many people are calling for defunding the police without a plan or a plan that lacks the proper the use of significant factors like crime data, response rates, and a comprehensive analysis of the police department’s overall budget to determine what can be cut without jeopardizing public safety as a whole.
“If people are asking to defund the police without a plan, they don’t know what they are asking for,” says Cross.
“Already we are shorthanded in officers,” continued Cross. “They [police officers] are leaving by the numbers, but defunding to go from 1,400 down to 200 and we already do not have enough officers, it is scary. If something goes wrong, who are you going to call?”
Protesting is a constitutional right of the citizen, but how we protest and where we protest must be taken into consideration. Community leaders such as Rev. Harriett Walden believes that although citizens have rights, protestors must not forget that our officials are citizens as well and deserve the respect afforded to everyone else.
Walden, founder of Mothers For Police Accountability and a human rights activist, says that some of the protesting and the calls for defunding the police appear to by misguided, and that funding decisions for the city lie on the shoulders of elected officials, not city employees like Best.
“In regards to the protest of Chief Best, she is a city employee, not an elected official, and in my mind, she has the right to her privacy and her property on her own private road,” says Walden. “Protestors should know that it is the city officials who make the decisions on cuts and not city employees and act accordingly — directing their energy in the direction that will do the most good.”
Walden also believes that efforts to defend the police will lead to a drawn out legal battle that will stifle the moment.
“Efforts to ‘defund’ and re-imagine the Seattle Police Department will face a complex web of legal, labor, and contractual impediments that will drag out the process for several months or possibly years in court,” says Walden.
Descending on the private residence of the city’s top police officer to most in the community was not the right way to get the message of police accountability and the defunding of the police across. They believe that every citizen should be afforded privacy and protection under the law and Chief Best is no different as she addressed this in a letter to Seattle City Council President Lorena González, Chairwoman Lisa Herbold and the other members of the City Council.
“I urge both of you, and the entire council, to stand up for what is right,” wrote Best. “These direct actions against elected officials, and especially civil servants like myself, are out of line with and go against every democratic principle that guides our nation. Before this devolves into the new way of doing business by mob rule here in Seattle, and across the nation, elected officials like you must forcefully call for the end of these tactics.”
Although protesting and assembling peaceably is the right of the people. Many believe that we are embarking on dangerous territory and that it is imperative that we begin to distinguish between protesting for the sake of protesting and what we are protesting for.