Like the rest of the world, the City of Olympia watched horrified at the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd joins the long, long list of unarmed African Americans who have lost their lives in extrajudicial killings. We must also acknowledge and honor the countless African Americans who go unnamed on that list across the history of the United States.
The rage at these injustices, bound with a myriad of other injustices, is boiling over on the streets of cities across this country. People are rightfully and finally shining the light on this glaringly ugly fact. We support the peaceful protests against the racial injustices that African Americans endure in the United States of America.
Unfortunately, we are also seeing others come to these protests intent on doing destruction. They are pushing peaceful protesters out of the light, and the violence they bring is drowning out the message of enduring racial injustice – a message that all Americans need to hear right now.
While other communities have moved to impose curfews, Olympia has held off. We are used to protests here. We are the Capital City. We are where our residents and other Washingtonians come to redress their government. We have a unique responsibility to help facilitate the safe and peaceful expressions of citizens’ voices. We cherish our responsibility to create safe space for expression, and we take it seriously.
We do not want to impose a curfew. But I need our community to understand what is happening in our community under the shield of peaceful protests.
On Sunday, May 31, a number of people held a peaceful protest through our Downtown core and staged part of the protest in front of City Hall. However, when night fell members of the group returned to City Hall and vandalized the building. Members of the group threw a large rock into the front doors of the building breaking the outer glass and damaging the panel that will need to be replaced. The Olympia Police Department responded to the attack on the building and spent the rest of the night and early morning trying to disperse the crowd.
On Monday, June 1, another peaceful protest was held in downtown, largely centered in front of City Hall. The Mayor reached out to the protestors and joined them in taking a knee as an expression of support. The crowd continued to protest peacefully through the downtown core. However, when night fell, 400 people filled the streets surrounding City Hall. They proceeded to throw rocks and bottles at the building and at our officers. Law enforcement worked to disperse the crowd while the protesters wreaked mayhem and destruction on our downtown for the rest of the night.
We do not know what tonight will bring.
This is taking a toll on our employees. This is taking a toll on fragile downtown businesses, still trying to come back from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know what business will not come back because fixing that broken window was a bridge too far for them. These are not the actions of people who care about our community, and they are not the action of people who really care about lifting the voices of African Americans and the injustices they endure.
Frankly, we need the community’s help. If you are part of a peaceful protest, we hope you will tell those who will use your peaceful message as a cover for destruction to stop. If you are organizing a peaceful protest, send a strong message that violence and violent behavior will not be tolerated.
I want to thank Interim Police Chief Jelcick and the men and women of the Olympia Police Department for their calmness and restraint in the face of the violence they’ve faced the last few nights. And I thank them for all they do to keep the City of Olympia and our residents safe.
- Jay Burney, Olympia City Manager