3 Days After Biden Inauguration, Seattle Starts Prosecuting Vandalizing Rioters More Harshly
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 08: A fire burns in the street after demonstrators clashed with law enforcement near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct shortly after midnight on June 8, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Earlier in the evening, a suspect drove into the crowd of protesters and shot one person, which happened after a day of peaceful protests across the city. Later, police and protesters clashed violently during ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd.
David Ryder/Getty Images

On Saturday, only three days after the inauguration of Joe Biden, the city of Seattle suddenly announced that vandals who destroy property during protests will be arrested and prosecuted more vigorously.

Seattle interim police Chief Adrian Diaz announced that the decision was made in coordination with City Attorney Pete Holmes, and enforcement would commence Saturday afternoon, the Seattle Times reported.

Diaz said of the rioters, “They’re focused on breaking windows, and these are things we need to work on,” adding that people who have been arrested “four or five times” for vandalism will be prosecuted more heavily. He asserted, “We will be prosecuting these crimes from now on. … When we don’t have any form of accountability for people — and many of them are coming from outside the city — they will continue to do that activity, and we can’t have that.”

“Diaz said police have arrested about 600 people for various incidents in riots or protests since last spring, and often misdemeanors haven’t been prosecuted,” the Seattle Times noted.

In December, the Seattle City Council was considering changing the criminal code so that criminals who had committed trespassing, theft, or even simple assault could be exempt from prosecution if they could prove that their survival depended on their criminal acts.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Anita Khandelwal, the King County’s director of the Department of Public Defense, introduced the idea of changing the criminal code. Herbold first brought forward the idea of what is nicknamed the “poverty defense” in October.

KOMO reported at the time:

If approved, the ordinance would excuse and dismiss — essentially legalizing — almost all misdemeanor crimes committed in Seattle by offenders who could show either: Symptoms of addiction without being required to provide a medical diagnosis; Symptoms of a mental disorder; or Poverty and the crime was committed to meet an “immediate and basic need.” For example, if a defendant argued they stole merchandise to sell for cash in order to purchase food, clothes or was trying to scrape together enough money for rent. The accused could not be convicted.

In July, then-Seattle police chief Carmen Best issued a memo warning the city’s residents and business owners that police officers would not be able to “safely intercede” in the event that homes and businesses were targeted after the city’s council passed a measure barring cops from using non-lethal crowd control methods.

The memo stated:

Please know that the Seattle Police Department is committed to addressing life safety incidents and calls for service, and responding to ongoing demonstrations and unrest in the city. Please also know that the City Council Ordinance 119805 Crowd Control Tool goes into effect this weekend on Sunday, July 26, 2020. This ordinance bans Seattle Police officers the use of less-lethal tools, including pepper spray that is commonly used to disperse crowds that have turned violent. Simply put, the legislation gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.

“For these reasons,” Best continued, “Seattle Police will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend – as I will never ask our officers to risk their personal safety to protect property without the tools to do so in a safe way.”

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