Inslee Says Protest Leaders Helping Prevent Violence From 'Hijacking' Message


OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee will meet with some leaders of the protests against police violence and racial injustice, whom he credited with keeping some violence in check during recent demonstrations.

Leaders recently have been successful in making "a cry for justice" while preventing violent people from undercutting their message, he said Wednesday.

"I believe we will be successful in not allowing violence to hijack the message to bring more justice to our communities," Inslee said during a news conference Wednesday. "I just hope they keep their eyes on the prize. Sometimes I know that's really, really hard."

A full investigation of the death of a Black man while in police custody in Tacoma is "a top priority," he said. Some responses by police in Seattle "are troubling" and deserve an investigation, which Mayor Jenny Durkan has promised, he added.

As part of a push for de-escalation of interactions between law enforcement and the community, the Washington State Patrol is investigating a report of an officer who used inappropriate instructions to troopers for how they should respond to a potentially tense situation.

"The language that he used was not in keeping with what we expect from our State Patrol officers," Inslee said. "Their choice of words is very important in these tense situations."

Law enforcement officers have tough jobs in these protests, with bottles being thrown at them and most recently laser lights being shined in their eyes, Inslee said. But Patrol Chief John Batiste is being asked to review the situation.

"These challenges are not just about police reform or urban reform," he said. "We have to have a comprehensive effort towards economic justice ... to provide housing, deal with food insecurity, to have real access to equal education."

Inslee said he will meet with leaders of Black Lives Matter, Not This Time and the Seattle Urban League.

Asked whether his message to people who last month demonstrated at the Capitol against his stay home orders was different from his message to those protesting against racial inequality and police violence, Inslee said all protesters should protect themselves against exposure to the coronavirus with face coverings and distancing. The latter is difficult during a protest, he added.

But Inslee insisted the state took the same approach to both protests: "Both of them were allowed to happen. I think we have treated them equally."

Wednesday was the first day that some rural counties, which were the first to move to Phase 2 of the state's economic reopening plan, could ask to move to Phase 3 with even more businesses open. Six filed requests, including Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry, Lincoln and Columbia counties.

The Department of Health will decide in "the next couple of days" whether to allow them to make that move, Inslee said. It must review the applications and develop specific guidelines for the businesses that would be allowed to open.