Report Back from Black Friday Shut Down

In honor of Mike Brown, and in response to the grand jury decision not to
prosecute Darren Wilson, protests and disturbances occurred across the
country on Black Friday. Protesters invaded malls and shopping centers, shut
down public transit, halted commerce, and demanded vengeance for Mike Brown and all victims of police shootings.

In Seattle, several events were called for, but all blended together in a 5
hour long roaming march and disruption of Capitol Hill and downtown. Energy
was high, as was antagonism against the police and business as usual. What
follows is a partial account—the authors were not present for the entire
event, and could not have seen everything in any case. This is from our
perspective, but more perspectives, and more reportbacks, are always

Earlier in the day, protesters met at 1 PM at Westlake and disrupted
shoppers, clashed with police, and padlocked the doors to the mall. From
there, they marched up Pine Street to meet up with a march called for at 3 PM
at SCCC. This march aimed to disrupt certain businesses that have been
calling for more aggressive policing targeting East African youth on Capitol
Hill—The Comet Tavern, Caffe Vita, and Lost Lake Diner were three major

On the way to the Comet Tavern, the group—200-300 strong at this
point—stopped in an intersection to make speeches and discuss racist
businesses and police murders in Seattle. Many people spoke about the role
racist policing plays in maintaining white supremacy, and its connection to
capitalism and colonialism. When a speaker drew attention to the police
murder of John T. Williams in 2010, the crowd turned their antagonism towards the police line, chanting “Shame! Shame!” and “Give Us Your Badge! Give Us Your Guns!” The police withdrew to the sidewalk, and the crowd proceeded to have four and a half minutes of silence, commemorating the four and a half hours that Mike Brown’s body lay in the street in Ferguson.

After the moment of silence, the march continued on Capitol Hill, where
protesters entered and disrupted businesses and continued giving speeches in the streets. Energy was high, and the crowd decided to march down Pike Street to Westlake Center, intending to disrupt the Christmas tree lighting
ceremony. The crowd reached Pike and Boren, and was met by a cordon of police in riot gear blocking their way. Protestors pushed forward against the
police, deploying umbrellas in defense against pepper spray, and then quickly
ran towards Pine Street, attempting to outflank the police. The bicycle cops
were faster, however, and re-formed their line before the crowd reached them.

At this point, the energy in the crowd was high, and the anger against the
police was palpable. People began preparing for pepper spray—putting on
goggles and masks, deploying umbrellas, and screaming at the police. Some
attempts were made to break through the police line, and scuffles broke out
as protesters grabbed bicycles from the bike cops and hit cops with
umbrellas. Some people were snatched and then de-arrested. During the
scuffles, cops set off a flash bang and some weak chemical weapon. The crowd stepped back, but nobody panicked and nobody ran—everyone was more prepared and less afraid than on Monday night. One person—a young black man—was grabbed by the police and beaten badly before being cuffed.

After the second failed attempt to push through the police line, the crowd
ran the opposite direction, up a steep hill and down a short alley. A game of
cat and mouse ensued, with protesters making their way carefully down several steep flights of stairs, under and overpass, and up a second flight of stairs to emerge in Freeway Park near downtown. Despite the narrow paths, the crowd did a good job of staying together, and individuals posted themselves up at various junctures to direct the crowd.

As the crowd emerged into downtown and neared Westlake Center, we poured into the busy streets and captured the attention of hordes of Black Friday shoppers. A line of bicycle cops attempted to stop the crowd from getting to Westlake, but they were quickly surrounded on two sides by protesters. The crowd became more antagonistic, and the bicycle cops, surrounded by an overwhelming, increasingly angry crowd, eventually withdrew and let the crowd pass. It was clear that this was their only tactical possibility at this point; outnumbered and surrounded, with no way to get backup from the heavily armed riot police a block away, any attempt by the riot police to disperse the crowd would have ended with tear gas in downtown Seattle on the busiest shopping day of the year.

The group soon reached the tree lighting ceremony and flooded into the main
plaza in front of Westlake Mall. A bizarre scene ensued; the cops had lost
the initiative, and had no option but to let the angry mob flood into the
plaza in front of Westlake Mall. As we chanted “Black Lives Matter!” and
“Justice for Mike Brown! If We Don’t Get It Shut It Down!” the Christmas music continued and the emcee for the event continued making his banal announcements, at one point apologizing to the children present for the
disruption. The initial spectators, forced to the sidelines, had nothing to
watch but the angry, shouting crowd, and while the band played on, nobody
gave it much mind.

During this time, a small scuffle broke out within the group of protesters,
revealing underlying tensions. One person began shooting a roman candle at
the band on the third-story balcony, attempting to disrupt the music and
ensure people could speak. Another person, a self-appointed white “ally”,
grabbed the firework and threw it on the ground, where it began shooting into
the crowd and making people panic. It is interesting to note that this
dynamic occurs over and over again whenever peace police try to manage
struggles. In the name of nonviolence, he grabbed a fellow protester,
struggled with them, and ended up causing more strife within the crowd. This
is the ultimate logic of the peace police: those to be feared are fellow
protesters, and any use of force against them is justified in the name of
maintaining legitimacy, while any force directed against those who actually
ruin our lives—the racist police, the centers of capitalist consumption—is condemned as violent and irresponsible. The police do not need protection from us—we need to learn to fight back against them, and to keep one another safe.

After 20 minutes or so of standing and chanting in the square, the crowd
moved into the mall. Another brief scuffle occurred as security guards tried
to hold the doors shut from the inside, but they were quickly overpowered,
and the crowd poured into the mall. We took escalators to the third floor,
chanted, and threw flyers about Mike Brown and the racist police all over the
mall. The crowd soon reached the third floor, and stormed the balcony with
the PA system. The media has reported that a children’s choir, who had been
performing at the time, all burst into tears as the crowd chanted and
screamed from the balcony. The children were apparently sad that their
Christmas festivities had been disrupted. Other people were apparently sad
and angry that the police keep killing people. The PA system was unplugged
multiple times, and someone managed to get on the microphone and begin
talking about Mike Brown.

Eventually the riot police entered the mall and made their way to the third
floor, just in time for everyone to leave. We all returned to the first
floor, continued chanting and talking, as some people laid down in the middle
of the mall for a “die-in.” Eventually everyone poured back outside,
re-joined the rest of the protesters who had remained in the plaza outdoors,
and gradually dispersed.

The march easily lasted for five hours, and disrupted businesses, traffic,
and shopping from Capitol Hill to Westlake. The general mood was both
antagonistic and eloquent—those who spoke illustrated the connections
between police murder, slavery, prison, and white supremacy, and people were
quick to confront the police when the time came. While there was a vocal
minority of “peace police,” their confrontations mostly took the form of
telling people not to use fireworks or move dumpsters. Nobody ever argued
that the cops are on our side, or that they are people too; everyone was
united in their hatred of the police. Likewise, when confrontations with the
police occurred, there was little attempt by internal forces to manage
protesters; no-one seemed to mind the police getting stabbed with umbrellas,
but some people were horrified to see a dumpster move into the street to
prevent the police from following, or to see fireworks set off to disrupt an
event. This is a step forward, certainly. It is also worth noting that there
was no unified condemnation of “the anarchists” or “outside
agitators”, though the media still revels in talking about the disruptive
“men in black masks.” While certain people took to confronting people in
masks whenever they did anything mildly confrontational, others were quick to come to their defense, and pointed out the role anarchists played in pulling
people out of clouds of pepper spray on Monday night. While the media like to
paint a picture of “good protestors of color, bad white anarchists,” the
reality was much more complicated, with a significant portion of the crowd
wanting to get rowdy.

The past week has seen demonstrations happening almost daily in Seattle, with hundreds of students walking out of high schools earlier in the week and
marches blocking the streets nearly every night. It is unclear what the next
steps in this struggle are – if this energy for daily marches and open
antagonism with the police can be sustained. It is unclear if and when the
anger over the grand jury’s decision will begin to normalize and people
will return to the regularity of their lives. We know that there can never be
justice for Mike Brown or any of the other thousands of people who have been
killed by the police. We just hope that people stay mad and keep fighting in
whatever way they can.