Inslee Says More National Guard Members to Train on Protests

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OLYMPIA — Even as he announced more National Guard soldiers would get trained in crowd control, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday he was heartened that the protests rippling across Washington over the killing of George Floyd have seemed increasingly peaceful.

In a news conference, Inslee applauded the leaders of demonstrations for working to make sure protests didn't turn violent.

"It appears to me there's been a strong effort by the leaders of these protests to try to prevent people from hijacking their peaceful protests," said the governor. "And it appears to me those things are working."

Still, the National Guard would train additional members to handle demonstrations, Inslee said, "so that they can provide safety."

"I think that is a prudent step; we need to be able to respond quickly to the need of local communities," he said.

Inslee's remarks came as residents in Seattle, Olympia and elsewhere rallied for a sixth night of protests amid national outrage since Floyd was killed last week when a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes.

The governor also addressed a video that surfaced of a Washington State Patrol officer telling his colleagues, "Don't kill them, but hit them hard," as they prepared to clear demonstrators Tuesday evening from Seattle streets. The State Patrol has apologized for the remark.

Inslee acknowledged law enforcement officers have difficult jobs, especially in tense situations where they sometimes get bottles thrown at them, "But we have to have high levels of standards for our State Patrol."

Inslee's remarks come after Tuesday's large, mostly peaceful demonstration in Seattle was broken up by police.

Meanwhile, Tuesday night, hundreds gathered downtown in front of Olympia City Hall. Speakers shared stories about injustices they had experienced, talked with each other about institutional racism, and held impromptu dance parties set to Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

Olympia Police Department officers stayed largely out of sight, letting demonstrators speak and march, helping to avoid confrontation seen in city protests the two previous evenings.

Later, demonstrators -- most of whom wore masks but practiced little social distancing to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus -- marched to the Capitol and took a knee in remembrance of Floyd.

Police made no arrests Tuesday evening, according to Olympia Police Department Lt. Paul Lower. In a text message, Lower called it a "well organized protest" and said the department appreciated that.

The north entrance and pillars at the top steps of the Capitol, however, were defaced with paint and chalk sometime Tuesday after 8 p.m., according to the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES).

At least some of that graffiti appeared to have been there already when the demonstrators -- most did not climb the steps up to the entrance and pillars -- arrived around 9:45 p.m.

"We are still assessing the damage, including clean-up costs," wrote DES spokeswoman Linda Kent in an email. "It is safe to say that it will take tens of thousands of dollars to address."

The agency, which oversees the Capitol campus, was already able to start some of the repair work, Kent added, which "will include several lengthy applications of a poultice" to remove the paint.

Meanwhile, Inslee said Wednesday that his office would soon start releasing coronavirus safety guidance for industries and activities eligible to resume under the third phase in his statewide four-part coronavirus reopening plan.

Six counties on Wednesday applied to the state to move to the third phase. Those counties -- Columbia, Ferry, Lincoln, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Wahkiakum -- are the first to ask DOH to advance to the third phase. State health officials must decide whether to give counties clearance to move forward in the reopening.

The third phase allows gatherings of up to 50 people, the resumption of nonessential travel, some indoor sports activities, and the reopening of museums, libraries and government offices.

It also allows bars to reopen at up to 25% of their capacity, movie theaters to resume at 50% capacity and restaurants to expand indoor dining to 75% capacity.

And King County officials Wednesday asked the state for permission to move forward in reopening its economy to a "modified Phase 1" plan that would allow limited indoor dining at restaurants, barbershops and salons to reopen and outdoor fitness activities to resume.

The application, filed with the state Department of Health (DOH), comes as the state's largest county readily admits it does not yet meet all the criteria to move to the second phase of the four-phase plan.

Six other counties have now applied to move to the plan's second phase, which allows a host of businesses to reopen with protections in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those were: Clark, Okanogan, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

A website showing the status of counties and their applications will be updated daily at 2 p.m., according to DOH.