What Would It Take for a Group of Immigrants Surrounded by Cameras to Get a Rise Out of the SPD Right Now? A Whole Lot More Than Today's Traffic-Blocking Demonstration

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Larry Gossett (in gray cap and Pramila Jayapal (in purple cap) block access to immigration courtrooms.
What if you held a civil disobedience protest and the cops refused to arrest anybody?

That's exactly what happened today when immigration reform advocates planned on getting 40 people arrested by having them block access to a downtown office building that houses several immigration courtrooms. Organizers--a coalition of advocacy groups led by the non-profit OneAmerica--advertised the civil disobedience effort as the biggest yet in a series of similar events across the country intended to escalate pressure on the Obama administration to stop detentions and deportations and create a path for undocumented immigrants to become legal.

About 100 protesters began gathering at the downtown federal building at 11 a.m., and 20 minutes later marched across the street to 1000 2nd Avenue. There, the 40 would-be "arrestees," as they were called in a press release, were standing in front of two elevator banks, their arms linked.

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Protestors try a new tack for getting arrested: blocking traffic.
Among them were King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, OneAmerica director Pramila Jayapal, Casa Latina executive director Hilary Stern, and various ministers, labor activists, and Latino leaders.

The crowd that marched in filled the lobby and the scene grew boisterous, as people chanted in English and Spanish, then started singing protest standards. But nobody official came running, not even a receptionist or security guard.

The harshest words exchanged came from one woman who apparently worked in the building and demanded, in vain, to be let through the human chain. "You are now infringing on my right!" she shouted, before storming off. While nobody else made it through the blockage either, office workers--unbeknownst to protesters--were able to get out for lunch by taking the elevator down to the garage or to a separate lobby used by maintenance workers.

Law enforcement officers were nearby. Across 2nd Avenue stood two officers from the Federal Protective Service, which is charged with protecting federal office buildings. One, who declined to give his name, said they weren't prepared to arrest anyone at this point but might based on "whatever happens." Down the street, Lt. Clay Monson of the Seattle Police Department, overseeing a group of motorcycle cops, said they were there to guide traffic, not arrest anyone.

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A motorcyle cop keeps a respectful distance.
What would it take for protesters to get arrested? Police department spokespeople could not be reached to explain. But apparently Seattle police--recently embarrassed by an officer who threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man--were in no mood to crack down on a group of immigrant activists. The difference with Arizona, which recently instructed its law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute illegal immigrants, couldn't have been clearer.

"We'll wait 'em out," Jayapal said around noon, when police still had not arrived. But at 12:40, protesters abandoned the building and tried another attempt to get arrested. They went outside and into the middle of the street, blocking traffic. Still, the cops kept a respectful distance. And so it went as they walked up Madison Street, stopping at various intersections.

Finally, at 1:30, the protesters called it quits. If they were disappointed at the lack of arrests, they put a positive spin on things, noting the energy and commitment of the crowd. "We're going to claim this a victory," Jayapal announced, saying they would now go back to Bethany Community Church on Beacon Hill to plan their next move.

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