At around 3 p.m. May 31, a group of protesters met at Bellevue Square to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died May 27 after a white officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said “I can’t breathe.”
While the demonstrations lasted most of the afternoon and evening, others were taking advantage of the situation at Bellevue Square.
Demonstrators and Bellevue Police reported that shortly after the protest was underway, more people came to the square and began smashing windows.
Police deployed smoke and tear gas to move the protesters. With smoke still filling the air, one protester told the Bellevue Reporterthat she saw people walk up to the peaceful protest and start throwing fireworks at police officers, and that was when the tear gas from officers and window smashing from looters began.
“Despite the violent and destructive actions that detract from the original message, we still hear and see those that are making important, meaningful and peaceful statements,” Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson said at a press conference Sunday evening.
Throughout the late afternoon, protesters were corralled at the intersection of Bellevue Way Northeast and Northeast Fourth Street. The large group was chanting, kneeling and speaking out against racial injustice. Volunteers from the crowd were speaking using a megaphone.
“Right now we can unify. This is love right here. I see a woman get tear gassed, and people rush to her aid,” one speaker told the crowd. “They saw I got tear gassed and poured water in my eyes, and I’m still here. No matter what. You have to be about that action. Actions speak louder than words.”
As the megaphone was passed around, speakers talked about the history of racial injustice in America and being fed up with the system. Later in the evening, the Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett joined the crowd and answered questions from protesters. After speaking to the crowd, tear gas was being deployed by the mall.
Next to the protest, groups of people were moving in and out of several Bellevue Square mall entrances carrying as much clothing, shoes and other items as they could.
Both groups, peaceful protesters and those breaking into the mall, were in Bellevue late into the evening. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the National Guard to assist, something Mylett said that he had not seen in over 30 years in law enforcement.
Mylett said in a news conference Sunday that the police department had received reports from social media the day before that “a group of known gang members” were planning to meet in Bellevue and “cause trouble.” Mylett also said they would be enforcing the curfew and making arrests. Mylett reported that one officer was hospitalized related to the events, but he did not specify what happened. The department has not yet released the number of arrests made Sunday.
At one point in the late afternoon, behind the roughly 300 protesters kneeling and saying George Floyd’s name, a group of people smashed three windows at Bellevue Rare Coins. A few minutes later, people affiliated with the store were on the scene to keep others from coming in. The shop was already empty at the time, so there wasn’t anything stolen, but the store’s representatives were making sure no once else entered. Those at the shop said they were supportive of protesters, but not with the destruction.
Social media circulated videos of people in the mall, as well as neighboring residents armed with guns appearing to defend the entrance to a nearby neighborhood.
Later that evening, the mayor issued a Civil Emergency Order that prohibited people from possessing and transporting weapons in downtown Bellevue, and authorized police to confiscate weapons and issue fines for violations. The list of weapons included things like bottles and skateboards that “can be used to inflict bodily harm.” The list also included rocks, paint balls, flare torches, lumber, bats, pipes and clubs.
On June 1, the city posted on Facebook that the damage done to stores in downtown Bellevue was not as much as originally believed, and called off the need for volunteers to help with the cleanup. Meanwhile, the National Guard secured Bellevue Square mall, allowing for employees inside to start cleaning what was left behind.