‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters who blocked traffic want criminal cases thrown out

SEATTLE -- Eleven protesters arrested for blocking traffic on Highway 99 in Seattle have asked that their cases be dismissed.

Attorneys for the defendants, who were part of an unpermitted anti-police brutality protest on January 19, argued in Seattle Municipal Court on Thursday that their client’s actions are protected by the First Amendment.

Using pipes, nylon cords, bolts, and sheet metal, the group locked themselves arm-in-arm across the northbound lanes of the highway and defied multiple dispersal orders. The action caused major traffic delays during the afternoon commute as police worked for several hours to remove and arrest each protester.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office later charged all 11 demonstrators with the misdemeanor crime of pedestrian interference -- a city ordinance that prohibits blocking the flow of traffic or the ability of pedestrians to walk on public sidewalks.

While neither side disputes the facts of the case, defense attorneys believe those engaging in constitutionally protected speech should be immune from the city’s pedestrian interference law.

“It’s about protecting our First Amendment right to protest and to engage in lawful, civil disobedience in the face of injustice,” said Sheri Pewitt, an attorney for one of the defendants.

Assistant Seattle City Attorney Raymond Lee argued that the right to free speech is not absolute, and that the rights of other citizens must be considered.

“The city of Seattle is a major city. It’s got lots of traffic. If anyone is allowed to block any street whenever they feel like, putting up barriers in a way where it took police almost two hours to separate them, then what we have is chaos,” Lee said.

Judge Karen Donohue is expected to make a ruling in the case on Friday.

In Seattle, the crime of pedestrian interference carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.