More than 7,000 sign petition to ‘stop illegal armed militias’ in Tri-Cities
TRI-CITIES, Wash. — More than 7,000 people have signed a change.org petition demanding that “local Tri-Cities officials act to stop illegal armed militias.”
The petition was created over concerns about a Facebook group called Defend The Tri, whose members have been standing armed with firearms outside local businesses to protect them from potential looting or vandalism amid unrest over the death of George Floyd, according to organizers of the group.
Organizers say the group’s purpose is to “raise awareness of local businesses that might need help protecting themselves and their business.” They said local businesses have been requesting their services.
Protest organizers and DTT leaders met with Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg for approximately four hours last week to discuss their intentions and proclaim they are opposed to vandalism and acts of violence.
The change.org petition, which appears to have been created by community members Afrose Ahmed, John Roach and Adam Avenir, claims DTT members have engaged in intimidation. The petition claims DTT members have publicly said they plan to attend protests to “protect” those who are attending.
“We do not see these armed groups as protecting us. They will not be at protests with our consent. We have expressed to them that they are not welcome. Their stance goes against our explicitly peaceful mission, and we want to be clear that we will view their presence at our protests as intimidation and in violation of our 1st amendment rights,” the petition says. “Should the police and sheriff departments of your various cities and counties allow these armed gangs to attend peaceful free speech demonstrations, we will be suing the cities and counties involved for violating our civil rights.”
Read the full petition here:
Throughout the Tri-Cities, and in each of your respective jurisdictions, various protests have been organized, and continue to be organized, to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, police violence against African Americans, and excessive use of force by police officers generally.
As of the time we write this letter, none of the individuals attending these protests have exhibited, or been charged with, any criminal, violent, intimidating, or destructive behavior.
A group has organized itself through a Facebook page titled “Defend The Tri” (hereafter, those individuals are referred to collectively as “DTT”).
For the last several evenings, members of DTT have armed themselves and have stationed themselves in the parking lots of local businesses, ostensibly to
deter any criminal behavior directed towards those businesses.
These armed individuals have coordinated their actions through the DTT FB Page and have done so with the knowledge, acquiescence, guidance, permission and assistance of each of the police forces of your local jurisdictions.
In the next few days, additional peaceful protests related to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement are planned (hereafter, “upcoming protests”).
Members of DTT have publicly indicated that they intend to attend these upcoming protests, that they intend to be armed when they do, and that their motivation is to “protect” those protesters.
The organizers, supporters and persons planning to participate in these upcoming protests (hereafter protesters) have publicly stated that they are opposed to any armed groups being present at their nonviolent protest, and hereby we place each of your jurisdictions on notice of the following:
We do not see these armed groups as protecting us. They will not be at protests with our consent. We have expressed to them that they are not welcome. Their stance goes against our explicitly peaceful mission, and we want to be clear that we will view their presence at our protests as intimidation and in violation of our 1st amendment rights.
Intimidation by groups of armed people, who are coordinating for the purpose of violating our civil rights is illegal, according to Wash. Rev. Code § 38.40.120. This prohibition is constitutional. The Supreme Court has reiterated that the Second Amendment, “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations.” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 621 (2008). The Second Amendment does not allow for the activities that are specifically prohibited by RCW § 38.40.120 and which have been validated by the words and deeds of law enforcement officials this past week.
Should the police and sheriff departments of your various cities and counties allow these armed gangs to attend peaceful free speech demonstrations, we will be suing the cities and counties involved for violating our civil rights.
Your city and county governments and law enforcement are on notice. We will be bringing legal action against you if you allow further intimidation to occur by groups of armed vigilantes.
We are demanding that city and county officials speak up clearly and publicly against intimidation of protesters exercising first amendment rights.
We demand that you promise to prosecute to the full extent of the law any violation committed by armed people, including blocking access to public spaces, gathering as an armed group, and acting in coordinated efforts against individuals of certain racial or ethnic groups under the guise of law enforcement.
We furthermore emphasize that we believe that this violation of our first amendment rights and intimidation tactics by armed coordinated groups is being allowed by city and county governments and law enforcement because of our beliefs and racial, ethnic, and other identities, and we are experiencing this as a concerted form of discrimination by elected officials.