Outrage in Snohomish over
situation, leadership response to May 31 events
SNOHOMISH — Political backlash and public disappointment over last week’s events is turning divisive about how Mayor John Kartak
did not immediately denounce displays of white
supremacy on First Street.
Meanwhile, a conversation may be opening up on an undercurrent of bigotry faced by non-white Snohomish residents.
The mayor states his position is people performed their First Amendment rights, even if he doesn’t agree with what was displayed.
On Tuesday, June 2, residents gave three hours of public testimony pillorying the council, Kartak and Police Chief Keith Rogers. People called for Kartak and Rogers to resign.
People who spoke expressed feeling unsafe, angry, hurt, unrepresented and disappointed.
The meeting began with Rogers debriefing council that it was a success that nobody was injured. “It looked very festive,” the chief replied to a question, with “a lot of people expressing their various rights.” The word “festive” upset people who said the guns and alcohol on First Street made it uncomfortable for anyone who did not fit with the crowd.
On Monday after press time, Rogers was replaced with a new police chief. More on this story here.
A public letter by Kartak on the city’s website thanking those who defended the town received public criticism because the letter did not condemn the Confederate flag being displayed.
The city removed Kartak’s letter from its website sometime last week. A copy of Kartak's letter is on the Tribune’s website at this link.
A similar letter from the Historic Downtown Snohomish Association (HDS) thanking the armed guards took similar heat. Within 48 hours, HDS replaced its letter with a statement against hate.
The City Council released its own public letter decrying racism on Thursday after holding closed-door sessions to finalize and approve it, as well as make a strategy to help heal the community. (More on this story here)
Michael Whitney photo
As the evening progressed Sunday, May 31, the crowd shifted on First Street. A few bore Confederate flags.
At the June 2 meeting, a few council members said they failed the people. One council member sobbed in anguish.
“When you don’t condemn these racists, you signal to them ... it’s OK to be racist,” a frustrated 14-year-old student directed to leaders. “I get called the N-word (at school). I have to deal with these kids, not you!”
“We were under occupation,” Tex Page of Looking Glass Coffee told the council. He said shops will close. “Our city may never recover from this.”
Some commenters asked why police didn’t intervene about the open drinking on First Street.
“Why were drunken white nationalists celebrated by elected officials?” Gabrielle Wilson asked the council Tuesday night.
Two prominent media images — a picture of three men with guns and gear posted by a Lynnwood media outlet, and video of people with guns and the Confederate flag on a truck in a television news helicopter shot — set a portrayal of May 31’s events. Residents expressed embarrassment that friends and family who live elsewhere are asking if what they saw is normal for Snohomish.
A video later that night of the vigilantes shouting down a woman who walked First Street yelling “Black Lives Matter” drew consternation on social media that all voices weren’t permitted to be heard on First Street.
The next night, a high school senior was hospitalized after being punched in the face during a flare-up between protestors and men posted on First Street. This incident is under investigation, Rogers said.
Councilwoman Judith Kuleta, who like her colleagues was torn apart emotionally after hearing the testimonies, said in frustration: “I saw these people with Confederate flags and their stupid assault rifles and they’ve hijacked the narrative” of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The mayor took interviews on two conservative talk radio shows June 3. Kartak said in one he was offended that people wanted law enforcement to boot out the group with guns and beer.
“They think my police should have forced people with the Confederate flag to leave ... and some of these have been teachers who teach our children and it shows an ignorance and a hubris that also upsets me that you can be so far out of touch you don’t understand the rights and laws” of “the First Amendment,” Kartak told KVI 570-AM’s Kirby Wilbur.
A few public commenters in a special council meeting Thursday zeroed in on the word “ignorance” from that interview as offensive.
On the Confederate flag, Kartak told Wilbur: “When I see that flag, I see a racist symbol.”
Kartak called the Confederate flags “shameful” to Jason Rantz of KTTH 770-AM, and mentioned there was a problem that some “less desirables” came to town.
Rantz pressed Kartak to clarify if he meant the Proud Boys. Kartak said he wasn’t “naming names.”
There were alt-right and alt-left individuals who came, Kartak told Rantz, and “for whatever it’s worth, they don’t define our town.”
Considered a threat
Law enforcement treated early intelligence that Antifa members would hit Snohomish as a serious threat, and mobilized more than 50 officers and a SWAT team.
The tips to police appear to have originated from a Facebook post containing secondhand information stating Emerald City Antifa posted, and later deleted, information online about a Snohomish event. A person responding from Emerald City Antifa’s Facebook page denied to a Tribune reporter by private message that the group had posted anything.
People stood outside their shops on First Street beginning around 4:30 p.m., plus a group of motorcycle bikers gathered around a bar, a Tribune reporter who arrived before 4 p.m. observed.
The scene on First Street shifted around 7 p.m. when firearm open-carry supporters took posts on the sidewalk. This group included a few individuals wearing Proud Boys gear. Drinking began by 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., the atmosphere evolved, with the group who came behaving like it was a block party.
The SWAT vehicle and many personnel dispatched to Snohomish drove away to redeploy to the riots in Bellevue.
Online update June 9, 2020:
This story updates that there is a new police chief for Snohomish and corrects the radio dial number for KVI-AM.
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