Lawsuit Claims Cost of Protest Gear Violates Seattle Protesters’ Civil Rights

seattle protest shield
File Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges that would-be protesters are prevented from demonstrating by the cost of protecting themselves from police.

Jessica Benton, Shelby Bryant, Anne Marie Cavanaugh, Alyssa Garrison, and Clare Thomas are suing the city of Seattle, claiming they were victims of “indiscriminate” police violence during June 25 protests on Capitol Hill. According to the suit, such response necessitates protective gear while demonstrating — items such as “helmets, gas masks, protective clothing, goggles, gloves, boots, umbrellas and other gear” they claim are prohibitively expensive.

“Because protesters now must purchase expensive equipment to be assured that they will be able to protest safely, the indiscriminate use of weapons by SPD implicates equal protection,” the lawsuit, assigned to Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez, reads. It seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting the police from using force or crowd-dispersal munitions, in addition to a similar injunction by Judge Richard Jones, already in place.

Attorney Talitha Hazelton of Renton filed it on Monday, writing:

Because the Seattle Police Department has acted above and outside the law in dispensing its unbridled force, and the City has failed to prevent same, the government effect is to establish a de facto protest tax: individual protesters subjected to SPD’s unabated and indiscriminate violence now must purchase cost-prohibitive gear to withstand munitions — even when peacefully protesting — as a condition to exercising their right to free speech and peaceable assembly.

Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Nolte confirmed that they will “look into these new claims and intend to defend the City in this matter.”


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