The Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats has been the site of demonstrations for years, but police are concerned about recent developments at the facility where immigrants are detained pending hearings on their residency status. Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell and Assistant Chief Shawn Gustason gave an update to Tacoma City Council on July 31.
Since late June the situation has become tenser, with people attempting to occupy land outside the facility on a 24-hour a day basis and erect structures. Gustason said officers have been pulled off patrol elsewhere in the city to respond to problems at the site. “We really had to be creative in pulling together resources,” he remarked.
Gustason said anarchists from Portland arrived on the scene on the evening of July 27. They used pallets to block the road. Police opted to wait until the following morning to respond with an adequate number of officers. A bus with detainees who were being released from the facility was blocked. Gustason acknowledged the efforts of employees of the city’s Public Works Department.
More unrest occurred on the evening of July 29, when a vehicle belonging to a worker at the center was vandalized. Also, a power line was cut, a gate was chained shut and roofing nails were placed on the street. “It was an extreme life safety situation,” Gustason remarked. Under a mutual aid agreement, officers from surrounding jurisdictions came to assist TPD.
Police returned on July 30 with about 50 officers. One person was arrested for spray painting graffiti. Sixty large blue bins, the same as used to clean up homeless encampments, were filled with items left by demonstrators. Public Works crews removed 11 tons of trash. Photographs were shown of potential weapons, including piles of rocks, baseball bats and cans of gasoline.
Many photos were shown to the council. One showed a person holding a sign that read: “All my heroes kill cops.” City officials opted not to show a video taken at the scene due to offensive language. Gustason said he and other officers do not recognize the anarchists. He wants to have special emphasis patrols of the site on a daily basis.
Ramsdell noted local residents who have been protesting at the center for some time want nothing to do with the out-of-town radicals. He was upset to hear racial slurs directed at officers of color. “We have gone away from what the real issue is,” he observed.