Scuffle, pepper spray, arrests in Pioneer Square after day of protests

A small group held an "anti-Sharia" rally at City Hall in Seattle, Saturday, June 10, 2017. A far larger group of counter-protesters was on hand. (KOMO)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - A day of protest and counter-protest culminated Saturday with a brief scuffle near Occidental Square in Pioneer Square.

Police used pepper spray and arrested several people after groups of anti-Sharia protesters and counter-protesters rallied through downtown. Two men and a woman were arrested for obstruction, police say.

The arrests were made in the early afternoon and came after a small band of demonstrators held an anti-Sharia rally on City Hall Plaza. A group of counter-protesters gathered nearby and attempted to to make enough noise to drown out the anti-Sharia speeches going on at City Hall.

The speeches centered on such subjects as "honor violence." A brawl broke out after the groups dispersed. Police say people from the anti-Sharia group marched by and taunted counter-protesters marching to Occidental Square.

"Neo-Nazi scum home," the counter-protesters chanted.

Officers tried kept the two groups apart and had to step in repeatedly, breaking up a number of confrontations throughout the afternoon. During the fight, protesters threw water bottles and police deployed pepper spray.

Police then ordered the crowds to disperse. Up until then, the confrontations had been tense and angry but not violent.

The anti-Sharia rally was originally planned to be held in Portland, Ore. but was moved to Seattle last week.

The protest was billed as a protest against Sharia, which is Islamic canonical law. A group called ACT for America planned several such rallies across the U.S. this weekend. ACT cancelled the event in Portland after a deadly stabbing on a transit train on May 26.

As the event in Seattle began to break up, protesters and counter-protesters argued on the sidewalk. Later, there was a shouting match in the street. Anti-Sharia protesters chanted "U.S.A."

That confrontation, at Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street, prompted police to use bicycles and fences to move the opposing sides even farther apart.

The initial rally at City Hall begin at 10 a.m. Crowds from both sides thinned throughout the afternoon.

The rally's organizer Anthony Parish of Kent, says the anti-Sharia rally is to protest practices like the mutilation of young girls and honor killing that the group attributes to Sharia law.

"This is definitely not an anti-Muslim march," he said prior to the march.

The counter-protest group says on its Facebook page that ACT for America is a hate group that wants to "spread fear and divide our community."

The counter-march was called Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors.

Police said they planned to have extra patrols and more bicycle officers on hand Saturday.

There was also to be an Ask a Muslim booth to focus on education.

"To actually get the information as opposed to the misinformation and the conspiracy theories that are going to be coming out of ACT for America and the protest rally there," said Aneelah Afzali with the Muslim Association of Puget Sound.

Other demonstrations were held in more than two dozen U.S. cities, including Seattle, New York, Chicago and San Bernardino, California.

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