Seattle high school teacher, activist and Common Dreams contributor Jesse Hagopian, who was pepper sprayed by police during a peaceful rally on Martin Luther King Day, filed a claim against the city and the police department Wednesday afternoon with the Seattle NAACP.
Hagopian, who teaches at Garfield High School and is a well-known activist in Seattle, says he had just finished giving a speech at the January 19 rally and was walking to his 2-year-old son’s birthday party, while on the phone with his mother, when he was sprayed.
In a video of the incident, Hagopian can be seen walking past several police officers while on the phone; seconds later, one officer unleashes a torrent of pepper spray at the marchers, seemingly unprovoked, hitting Hagopian in the face and others nearby.
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“I felt the piercing pain through my eye, my eardrum, and my nostril, all over my cheek and face,” Hagopian said at a press conference Thursday. “I yelled out. My mom was in distress as she heard me yell and couldn’t see me and knew that I was in distress.”
NAACP attorney James Bible said Hagopian’s mother had filed a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability, but turned to the civil rights group because she lacked faith in the OPA.
The city has 60 days to respond. If it doesn’t, the NAACP will file a lawsuit.
Supporters launched a petition on Friday calling for Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to identify the officers who sprayed Hagopian and hold them accountable for their actions, and to put an end to police harassment of peaceful demonstrations like the #BlackLivesMatter protest on January 19.
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