SEATTLE -- Seattle police are prepared to make arrests should “Black Lives Matter” protesters attempt to take over the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony for the second year in a row.
Around 4,000 people have RSVP’d on a Facebook group to protest near Westlake Center, where the tree lighting will be held Friday evening. Police expect the actual number of participants will be in the low hundreds.
Last year, protesters with the movement stormed into two downtown shopping centers on Black Friday, then blocked traffic before some got into violent confrontations with police. Later on that night, a small group of protesters attempted to take over the tree lighting ceremony, shouting over emcees and trying to get to the stage during a live TV broadcast of the event.
The tree lighting was eventually cut short and a performance from a children’s choir had to be cancelled.
“Last year, we didn’t expect the crowd to do what it did, so we weren’t as prepared as we probably could have been,” Capt. Chris Fowler told Q13 FOX.
Fowler will be the Seattle Police Department’s incident commander for this years’ tree lighting and holiday parade, which puts him in charge of deciding how officers will respond to any potential protests.
“We will be monitoring the crowd earlier. We’ll be able to respond to it earlier. We understand some of the tactics,” he said.
“As long as people are down here peacefully protesting and allowing everybody to enjoy the space, that’s fine,” he added. “The minute that they either commit acts of violence or property damage, or attempt to move into an area where they’re not authorized, then we’ll take appropriate action.”
Asked whether police would make arrests if protesters disrupt the event, Fowler said it would be a last resort.
“We’d rather work cooperatively with everybody so that they all can have their say and enjoy the events that we have down here, but ultimately if we have to do that, then that’s what we have to do," he said.
According to the Facebook page for the protest, the group plans to gather at Westlake Park around 1pm for a rally and speeches. The event says there will then be a "street dance party” and “other planned stuff."
Similar “Black Lives Matter” events are being planned in Portland, New York City, and San Diego, according to the page.
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of local civil rights activists are expected to hold a press conference a Seattle City Hall, calling on Seattle police to “refrain from violent attacks against 'Black Lives Matters' protesters during the upcoming Black Friday demonstrations.”
“In the past year, in the wake of widespread outrage over the police killings of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and many others, thousands of people have exercised their First Amendment rights and have taken to the streets of Seattle,” the group wrote in a statement. “The SPD has responded with brute force, attempting to disrupt the demonstrations and block access to public places.”
Among those expected to speak at Tuesday’s press conference are representatives from the Public Defender Association and the NAACP. Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant is also expected to make remarks, having been a vocal opponent of how Seattle police officers have responded to “Black Lives Matter” protests in the past.
“The coalition calls on the SPD to respect the Rule of Law and to allow demonstrators to protest in the streets of our city without fear of repression and harassment,” the statement read.