Society, Justice and Law

Seattle U’s Korematsu Center among advocates filing suit on behalf of Black Lives Matter

June 11, 2020

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Legal advocacy agencies filed a lawsuit in federal court this week on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County against the Seattle Police Department for its use of force against crowds that gathered to protest the death of George Floyd

Update June 12: U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones granted a temporary restraining order against the City, banning the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and flash bang grenades for at least 14 days while the litigation goes forward. The judge’s order does allow some exceptions in case of specific imminent threats.

In a Seattle Times story about the decision, Robert Chang, professor of law and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, said, “We know what happens when people don’t speak out against government wrongs. This TRO recognizes that it is crucial to our democracy for people to be able to protest without fear of state violence. Maybe then, change will come.”

The Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Seattle law firm Perkins Coie, filed a lawsuit in federal court this week on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County against the City of Seattle for the use of force by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) against crowds that gathered to protest the death of George Floyd.

“I am keenly aware that government wrongs occur more easily when people do not speak out against those wrongs,” said Chang. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that people can raise their voices to protect Black lives and to gather together and march in silent protest against police violence without fear of police violence.”

According to a news release about the lawsuit, the complaint alleges that SPD’s use of chemical agents and less lethal projectiles violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against excessive force as well as the First Amendment’s free speech protections. The lawsuit seeks to stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control by the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department.

“As our Seattle University students call for concrete action on issues of racial justice, we are justifiably proud of the Korematsu Center’s legal efforts, which will help ensure that our community members can raise their voices and march in support of Black Lives Matter without being subjected to violence at the hands of the Seattle Police Department,” said Annette E. Clark ’89, dean of the law school.

Among the five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are two with ties to Seattle University:  second-year law student Alexandra Chen, and civil rights leader and Seattle U Law alumna Sharon Sakamoto ’84, who survived internment as a child during World War II. She was frightened off from participating in the protests after learning police were using chemical irritants.

The Korematsu Center's mission is to advance justice and equality through a unified vision that combines research, advocacy, and education. Its research is focused on understanding the relationship between law and categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, and disability, especially with regard to their intersections. Its advocacy work seeks to combat discrimination and to support communities in advocating for themselves. Its education efforts are focused on helping students become agents for social change.


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