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USA: Seattle police shut down Antifa football match

A football match among Antifa activists was interrupted by police on December 20.
A football match among Antifa activists was interrupted by police on December 20. © Instagram

Police in Seattle on December 20 broke up a football match of individuals dressed in the “black bloc” style favoured by supporters of the Antifa protest movement. After asking them to leave the park – which has been closed since late June following Black Lives Matter protests – police used mace and pushed people to the ground, arresting seven. Videos and photos of the event have spread online, with many users alleging that the police targeted this group as protesters and Antifa members, while ignoring others in the park.

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At around 3:30pm on Sunday, December 20, a group of people gathered in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park to play what one social media user described as “a chill, social distanced game of soccer”. An hour later, up to 30 police officers had arrived at the scene, and one person was brought to the hospital in an ambulance.

A video posted on Twitter on December 21 shows several people dressed in black clothing playing football in Cal Anderson Park. 

A 40-minute long livestream video captioned “Antifa soccer turns into arrests and brutality” posted on Instagram shows the events unfolding. At least 12 police officers are seen approaching the football pitch and the group of players, who were wearing mostly black clothing. Police tell them that they need to leave and that the park is closed. 

“You all weren’t doing that for all the other soccer players,” the person taking the video told police. “Why are you all kicking everyone out of the park once the black bloc come?” The police do not answer, and just continue telling them the park is closed.

Independent journalist Mike Scaturo arrived at Cal Anderson Park after hearing on a police scanner that officers were deployed to the park. 

It was definitely tense. These protesters have been marching almost every day since May, so a lot of these officers know these people by name. But from what I saw on the ground, there was no damage being done there. People were just playing soccer. I didn’t see anybody with umbrellas, that they would typically have [in a protest]. I didn’t really see anyone wearing a gas mask. A street medic came and asked me if I had any wipes because they had left their medic bag at home. They were literally just going there to play soccer. These people, apart from being dressed in all black, weren’t geared up with shields or umbrellas, or anything like that. They weren’t expecting confrontation.

According to Seattle police, they received a call of “reports of people inside the park” at 4:30pm and responded with several officers. The Instagram video shows that the players, as well as additional police officers, had gathered at the edge of the football pitch when the confrontation escalated. 

At 14’04” of the video, we can see police push one of the football players to the ground, placing them under arrest. Police then create a barricade around this person and start to push others back out of the park. At 14’47” they begin to use mace, then several other people are brought to the ground and handcuffed, with police officers placing them under arrest. 

A screengrab from a livestream posted to Instagram on December 20 shows Seattle Police placing several individuals under arrest.
A screengrab from a livestream posted to Instagram on December 20 shows Seattle Police placing several individuals under arrest. © DR

According to communications from the Seattle Police Department, the first individual was placed under arrest for assault after allegedly spitting on a police officer. The six others were arrested for “obstructing a police officer", when they allegedly attempted to “unarrest” that individual. 

From the video of the event, it is not clear what prompted the first arrest. 

Around 15 minutes after police arrived at Cal Anderson Park, seven individuals were arrested. The first person arrested (seen above) was isolated from others after their arrest.
Around 15 minutes after police arrived at Cal Anderson Park, seven individuals were arrested. The first person arrested (seen above) was isolated from others after their arrest. © DR

Onlookers said that up to 30 police were present in the park after reinforcements were called in. Around 10 police vehicles were parked outside the park, including one arrest van. 

Around 15 minutes after the arrests, an ambulance arrived at the scene to respond to an injury to one of the arrested individuals who became unresponsive at the scene. Police say they are investigating how the person was injured. 

In a video posted on Twitter December 20, an ambulance can be seen at the end of a street that is partially obstructed by five police vehicles. 

According to onlookers, the ambulance took 15 minutes to arrive after being called, despite the emergency dispatch station being only four blocks away, because police vehicles were blocking the street. There are three hospitals within a five-minute drive of the park.

‘Why was this response even necessary in the first place?’

Many who posted about the event on social media assert that the arrests were targeted at individuals whom police knew to be protesters, Antifa and activists. 

Social media users shared videos of other residents, athletes, and dog-walkers who were present in the park before and after the arrests, alleging that police only targeted this particular black-clad group, without enforcing the park closure on others. 

In a video posted to Twitter on December 20, a police officer tells onlookers, “I want to make sure the message is consistent to everybody: the park is closed.”

In a video posted on Twitter on December 20 after the arrests, people can be seen playing football on the same pitch at Cal Anderson Park.

Scaturo noted that some people remained present in the park after the arrests. 

Twenty minutes later I counted about 20 people back walking their dogs, other people playing soccer, some people looked like they were getting ready to play some cricket. It’s pretty common that there’s usually about ten people on the field, just doing normal park stuff, pretty much all hours of the day. All summer, the height of the good weather around here, on a Friday evening you might have over 100 people there playing sports, having dinner, picnics, stuff like that.

People in yoga pants, walking their dogs, playing soccer, haven’t been bothered for weeks and months. And when these activists, dressed in black, go to play soccer, drink beer, and just have a gathering, you get a response of a couple dozen police officers. It’s definitely worth noting that when this group was asked to leave the park, they resisted a bit, but I think the main concern is, why was this response even necessary in the first place?

Cal Anderson Park is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood, site of ongoing protests, and former locale of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, where protesters gathered after the police killing of George Floyd last May. According to the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, the park has been closed since June 30 “to be restored and repaired for future demonstrations and other park uses”. They also note, “Unless there are any incidents, SPD [Seattle Police Department] is not expected to be at Cal Anderson Park.”

Enforcement of the park’s closure has been lax, with the Parks Department communicating that residents are allowed to use the park unless Parks employees are present to do repairs. Indeed, the park has been used regularly by Seattle residents since its closure for leisure and events, including a religious worship concert held in August that was attended by hundreds, many not wearing masks or social distancing.

Cal Anderson Park has also been in the news in recent days when, on December 18, Seattle police and city workers cleared out an encampment of people experiencing homelessness, arresting 24 in the process. 

 

 

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