Accounts of Police Brutality and Socialist Alternative Co-option at SeaTac #MuslimBan Protest
Collected here are accounts and analysis from people who were on the escalators and faced police violence while occupying SeaTac demanding detainees be released on 1/28/17.
“I want to make sure everyone knows that Kshama Sawant [City Council member] put a lot of people in danger last night. We had all marched into the airport and blocked the exits, we were strong in numbers and most of us were fully prepared to stay the night. The organizers went from group to group telling us that the plan was to stay until the people detained were released. Kshama decided that on her own with a few people from SA [Socialist Alternative, a reformist group] she would end the occupation before the prisoners were released. She did not confer with any of the organizers that have far more experience with organizing, protesting and most of all risk analysis. She lead about 2/3rds of the protest out, onto the street and to the light rail leaving the rest of us at MUCH higher risk for attack and arrest.
What could have been a successful overnight occupation ended with many of us being arrested, almost all of us being pepper sprayed and everyone left being brutalized, pushed down the escalators while being pepper sprayed and many of them being blocked from their cars. The worst part is, is that what we were doing was WORKING. Our occupation was being used as leverage by the lawyers of the detained people and it was much more likely to be successful with more people that could have secured the place longer.”
“I know a lot of you can hear me so I want you to take the time to understand what happened at SeaTac tonight and I want you to understand what the police in your country are willing to do in order to protect the racist policies of the state. I went to the airport tonight because earlier as many as 10,000 people were there to protest the illegal detention of 13 refugees under Trump’s Islamophobic executive order. Protesters were asking that those illegally detained in the airport be released.
I’m not sure why, but before I got there, Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant and mayor Ed Murray, both who campaigned on social justice values arranged with police for protesters to leave. I got there at about 11:30pm and protesters had been corralled into an area that was walled off by police. Shortly after I got there they closed the doors on a woman’s hand who was trying to exit and then arrested her, leaving only a single escalator an exit. As the number of protesters got smaller they closed in and eventually started pushing protesters out. The people who had chosen to leave at that point were not yet off the escalator when they started sweeping the crowd with pepper spray. I was on my way to the escalator on the departures floor which is about a two story (?) drop down to the arrivals floor/baggage claim area. I was pushed on to the escalator which was crowded with people and I could feel the sides of it bowing as if it was going to break with the force of way too many bodies. It felt like we were all going to fall but there was no where to go.
A police officer then grabbed my hair, looked me in the eye and then shot me with pepper spray point blank. I couldn’t see anything but still had to make it down the escalator in order to get out. I could feel my friend who had fallen down onto the escalator who had been pepper sprayed in their face laying in front of me and the police pushing us but I could only see enough to know that they were not standing up. I don’t know what happened because I literally couldn’t see anything but somehow another friend helped us get to the bottom of the elevator and in to the parking garage where people helped me rinse my eyes with milk. I still couldn’t see but I could hear people screaming as the police continued to pepper spray. They then corralled people out of the parking garage and ordered us to walk on to the I-5 entrance. We left and went to our car, but I later learned that the police arrested many of these people and dumped them at the light rail station which was not running.
I know that I experienced a fraction of the brutality that other people did tonight. I don’t even know how bad it got because I was blind with pepper spray and anxiety and rage. I happened to be on my way out of the area and I wasn’t being confrontational but I was still assaulted and made to fear for my life, though I want to say I don’t promote non-confrontational tactics above any others. I want people to understand though, this is what the police did to protesters with plenty of media watching them.
This is what they will do when people are watching. Do you understand what that means about what they will do when people are not watching? Please don’t tell me you’re sorry for what happened to me, please tell me what you are going to do to make sure that people who have faced unimaginable terror in their own country, because of our racist government, will not be brutalized when they come here to escape it. Not hypothetically. Like literally what are you going to do?”
“When they announced we would be placed under arrest if we did not disperse, we locked our arms together in solidarity with Muslims and refugees affected by the EO. We were not fighting or resisting; we all expected to get arrested and waited calmly. Then suddenly, unidentified officers began pushing us towards the escalators. We yelled at them to stop, that they could seriously injure someone. But they kept pushing. They started pushing many people down the escalator at once, so all you could see were people’s legs and bodies in front of you. You didn’t even know where you were stepping, whether you were on solid ground or on someone’s limb. They pushed more people on top of us as we nearly trampled on top of each other, and at one point I had to hang on to the escalator railings with both arms to hold the weight of the people being thrown on me. On the escalator on the opposite side, they did the exact same thing but also pepper sprayed people as they were being pushed down. It was horrifying. It was true police brutality.”
“Earlier the cops had locked the doors so we could not leave, only giving us a small area to stand and one escalator to descend to the parking structure, but unable to return to those still in the airport protest. The police gave us a final order- leave or risk arrest. We chose to stand. Instead of arresting us the cops pushed us all with their bikes against a short walled ledge- we were stuck while they beat us with their fists, kicks, bikes, and pepper spray canisters, and also pepper sprayed us. People were almost pushed over the ledge, a two story drop. They almost broke my leg trying to push me onto the escalator but there was the rail in the way.
Already blinded and not able to breathe, the shoved 25 of us down an escalator slick with pepper spray and vomit. People were falling down the escalator because the cops pushed them down. More people who were being pushed down the escalator were trampling those who had already fallen. We were screaming in pain and because we could not move, all of us stuck and still being pushed. A cop grabbed my friends hair, ripped her head back, looked her in the eye, and pepper sprayed her eye with the nozzle less that 2 inches away. A cop beat me with his pepper spray canister and then sprayed into my mouth and ears, the nozzle touching my skin. They did this when we could not move. I fell to the floor of the escalator, blind and unable to breath while being stamped on, and vomiting. We were all still at the top of the escalators, screamed at by the cops to move, although there were too many injured and blinded people that it was impossible.
The escalator was shaking with the weight of all the concentrated people and motion. We thought it would collapse. The cops pushed us till we all started falling forward. I fell down several steps, unable to get up, and someone had to pick me up, all of us had to be picked up, and dragged away from the cops still pepper spraying and beating people while advancing forward. Medics were trying to help us breathe and wash our eyes but the cops kept running at us to keep us leaving the airport and going to the parking lot. They kept us running and being carried and dragged till we were in the parking structure then surrounded us again, screaming at the medics helping us. Once they started pepper spraying I was barely able to breathe but I still uncontrollably was vomiting and screaming. I was screaming for my wife who was also pepper sprayed and beat, unable to look for her, to know she was alive.
Both of us blinded and unable to stand, the only reason we got to safety and were able to find each other was a friend along with a medic carried us to safety and we’re helping us scream each others names while trying to wash our faces as the cops continued to advance. Our rides found us both and the cops would not let us walk to their car. The cops screamed at our ride told them to bring the car so that the cops would know they weren’t faking it trying to get back into the airport to protest more. Our friends ran and tried to drive the car to the police line, but the cops had locked the gate of the parking structure. We had to be redirected all through the parking structure walking and then driving, afraid the cops had locked us in like they had earlier. We found a way out. We were still blind, still unable to breathe. Every inch of us was drenched in pepper spray.
This is entirely unsurprising. We endangered their profits. Cops will always side with the state, and the state will always protect property and capital. Politicians like Sawant and organizations like Socialist Alternative are not only terrible organizers, they co-opt movements and mobilization, funnel it into their organization, and then compromise with reforms that have no measurable effect on working class marginalized people. Socialist Alternative has a history doing this to Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, and Housing Justice in Seattle. They collaborated with Mayor Ed Murray and the Chief of SeaTac Police to end the protest early. They stole organizers bullhorns and while those organizers shouted at Sawant and SAlt to not end the protest, were silenced as Sawant made the announcement. Sawant then yelled at those organizers that we had a symbolic win and it was better tactically to leave now so that we can win over more working class people, even though lawyers at that point were already telling us that the longer we stayed, the better leverage there was to free detainees. SAlt profits over collaborating with the government in two ways- co-opts movements to be less radical and have less wins while funneling passionate radicals into their membership which brings more dues to them. SAlt’s membership are not dedicated or trained organizers, they are cowards with bad analysis more interested in state power than revolution. Direct action leads to wins. And we need wins to mobilize more working class into building towards insurrectionist revolution. Bourgeois “revolutionary” party politics are not going to bring liberation, only us the people will break our own chains.”