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Civil liberties advocates call on Seattle police to show restraint during Black Friday protests

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SEATTLE -- It was an annual Seattle tradition that was disrupted last year when protesters drowned out the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Westlake Center. Seattle Police have said they’ll be ready to make arrests if things get out of hand.

On Tuesday afternoon, demonstrators called on SPD to refrain from using violence.

Thousands of people have RSVP’d on Facebook for Friday’s Black Lives Matter protest at Westlake Park. They say they’ll voice their concerns about what they call police brutality, especially against people of color. The group is asking police to let them exercise their freedom of speech.

Attorney Neil Fox joined other civil liberties advocates in the press conference. He believes last year it was police who triggered the chaos.

“My memory from last year was that police were the first to be violent,” said Fox.

Seattle Police released this statement in response to the press conference:

“The Seattle Police Department supports the rights of demonstrators, the community and families enjoying holiday events. We will be providing public safety services to ensure that all can exercise their rights to assembly and free speech.”

However, not everyone is buying it. Garfield High School history teacher Jesse Hagopian says he saw what he calls police brutality firsthand during a peaceful protest over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year.

“I was pepper-sprayed in the face and assaulted by an officer,” said Hagopian. “It actually left me quite hurt and silent for a long time, and it’s been a process to be able to come to terms with how to talk about it and explain it to my own kids.”

The Black Lives Matter demonstrators would not go into detail about what exactly they have planned, but supporters and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant said they’re in it for the right reasons.

“They’re extremely peaceful and they know what they’re doing,” Sawant said of the protesters. “They are there to protest injustice. They don’t wish injustice on anybody.”

Last year, no one was hurt during the protests in outside Westlake Mall. Before arriving at the mall, demonstrators spent the day marching through the downtown shopping district, sometimes confronting the police, who were following them. That led to five arrests.

Here is the Q13 FOX News story and video from the protests at the tree lighting in 2014