Seattle police criticized for arrest of crying 13-year-old girl who used wrong ‘chalk paint’ during climate-change protest

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A crying 13-year-old girl who had accidentally used spray paint, instead of washable chalk paint, to write on a wall at Seattle City Hall was arrested by Seattle police at a climate-change protest downtown on Friday afternoon.

According to videos and conversation posted on Twitter, one of the adults supporting the children’s protest brought a case of the wrong kind of paint.

A 25-year-old man was arrested along with the seventh-grader, according to a Seattle police blotter post that said officers were responding to a report of vandalism and that building security said they saw people damaging the building facade. Reports on Twitter said the adults who brought the paint were also questioned.

After being taken to the police department’s West Precinct, the girl was released to her parents and the man was booked into King County Jail.

The two were attending a demonstration at City Hall held by Fridays for Future Seattle, a group that encourages young people to emulate Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and strike every Friday to call attention to the climate crisis. The group favors adopting a local version of the Green New Deal.

A 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man were arrested Friday afternoon after they used permanent spray paint instead of washable chalk paint to write on a wall at Seattle City Hall during a climate-change protest. (Seattle Police Department)

A 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man were arrested Friday afternoon after they used permanent spray paint instead of washable chalk paint to write on a wall at Seattle City Hall during a climate-change protest. (Seattle Police Department)

A 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man were arrested Friday afternoon after they used permanent spray paint instead of washable chalk paint to write on a wall at Seattle City Hall during a climate-change protest. (Seattle Police Department)

A video posted on Twitter by chemist and lecturer Heather Price shows officers cuffing the child and telling people they wanted to take her to the precinct rather than sort out the matter there in public view, “while we’re surrounded by a bunch of people who want to make their opinions known.”

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“The adult who gave her the chalk can and told her it was washable, was held a little longer, and also released,” Price wrote on Twitter Sunday morning. “Such an unfortunate misunderstanding all around.”

Former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver weighed in on Friday evening, saying the officers could have instead turned the incident into a teachable moment.

“Imagine if instead of arresting this little girl the cops had helped her clean it up. Imagine if they had thanked her for her service for protecting the planet,” Oliver wrote. “That kind of public service would have actually been transformative and accountable.”

Police did not respond to a question Monday about whether the situation could have been handled differently.