For over a month, protesters and activists have filled the streets of cities throughout the country. The May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. With each protest came questions, and often accusations. Intentions and tactics of both law enforcement, protesters, and government leaders have been questioned. The June 2 peaceful protest in Auburn was no different.
I Can’t Breathe – Black Lives Matter Protest
The overall feedback regarding Auburn’s protest was praise that, while large, it remained peaceful. Leading up to the protest, organizers issued repeated messages to reiterate that the planned protest was family-friendly and peaceful.
While ultimately protest attendees were responsible for their own actions, Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil commended the protest organizers for the protest atmosphere, “the organizers showed great leadership to ensure that the protest remained positive and peaceful.”
Protest co-organizer Dalayna Wallace expressed her gratitude that the protest remained peaceful, “I’m really happy that once I announced my protest was over [at 8:00 pm], that those who decided to stay until the curfew still remained peaceful.”
The City of Auburn Prepares for the Protest
“We would like to thank the organizers for reaching out to the police department early and maintaining communication up to and through the event,” said City of Auburn Director of Administration Dana Hinman. “As we saw the event numbers growing on the Facebook post and after seeing what was happening in other communities with others not associated with the protests interfering with the important equity message, we took a number of steps ahead of the event to subvert those that would want to interfere with the Black Lives Matter* organizers.”
To prepare for the protest, the city:
- Brought inside all city-owned garbage cans, tables, chairs, and any other items that could be thrown or used as a weapon.
- Moved all city vehicles offsite in the event bad actors would try to damage or set fire to them.
- Public Works closed and barricaded the side streets off Main Street.
- Locked down City buildings downtown at 2 pm.
- Traffic Division repositioned traffic cameras to allow for better views of the event.
Auburn’s Emergency Management Department staff had the Emergency Operations Center activated to monitor the event. They also worked with the MultiCare Auburn Medical Center to ensure their employees would be safe, and that emergency vehicles would not be impeded in or out of the hospital.
Mayor Nancy Backus had declared a curfew because of the looting in the Puget Sound the weekend before the protest. Due to continued looting activity in the region, the curfew was extended. City of Auburn Communications Division Manager Kalyn Brady confirmed the curfew had no connection to the protest.
Bricks in Trash Cans
City employees discovered bricks and rocks placed inside multiple garbage cans while clearing items from the protest route. “There was also a pile of cinderblock outside the fence of the old Heritage building we believe was from construction activities that City staff removed as well out of caution. We also found some large chains stashed in the bushes at City Hall,” said Hinman. “We are confident that the organizers had nothing to do with this, but others seeking to be violent.”
According to Hinman, the Parks department, Maintenance and Operations, and City of Auburn Facilities staff did frequent checks of the protest area and route. These checks were to ensure other potentially dangerous items were not being placed along the route.
In addition to the bricks and chains found pre-staged along the protest route, sacks of potatoes and onions located behind Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro were also removed. The vegetables were seemingly removed out of an abundance of caution due to their proximity to the Auburn Justice Center. It is unknown exactly who removed the produce, or if they realized it was a part of a recent delivery to the restaurant.
Downtown Auburn Businesses Board Up
Looters targeted malls and shopping centers throughout the Puget Sound days before Auburn’s protest. This looting made some business owners, like A Little Knitty owner Jen Reeves, nervous. “I couldn’t take the economic hit of possibly being looted, or just having my windows smashed,” said Reeves. “Because let’s be honest, no one is going to loot yarn. I did not think the protest would be violent. I attended it, but I was concerned about groups outside the event smashing windows and damaging property. Especially after watching a group smash windows at the outlet collection.”
Reeves had not originally intended on boarding up her business, as she could not afford it. When boards were offered to her, “I just couldn’t say no to such a kind offer,” said Reeves. “When we were boarding up, I was notified of the bricks in garbage cans, and it made me more thankful that I had the boards!”
On the afternoon of the protest, businesses in downtown Auburn boarded up their businesses. The Downtown Auburn Cooperative provided supplies to members along the route that indicated they wanted to secure their business. The city’s Economic Development team and additional volunteers helped assist businesses in hanging boards over windows to prevent vandalism and looting.
Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro owner Brittiany Karlson posted a statement on Facebook, reflecting on the protest. The post read, in part, “us business owners stand with you, and we also stand together. Our boards do not mean we don’t believe in your cause. We absolutely do, but we cannot take another hit from those who are out to tarnish your message. We simply cannot afford it after what COVID has done.”
Both Karlson and Reeves attended the protest. Reeves shared that “I attended the protest because I want to be part of the catalyst for change. And that means more to me than making a post on social media or donating to a Black Lives Matter charity. I want people in our community to know we are listening, and we are here to stand with them. I understand that the decision to board up my windows might seem counter to wanting to support Black lives matter, but the boards were for the looters, not the protesters. The protest was very moving, especially as a mother. The organizers did a phenomenal job. I don’t think I’ll ever forget standing in silence for eight minutes.”
Up next in our protest follow-up, we look at how the Auburn Police Department prepared for the June 2 protest, as well as how they interacted with the protesters present.
Updated 07/17/2020: The quote from Dalayna Wallace comes from an earlier interview and article. Ms. Wallace declined to comment on further coverage of the protest.