SEATTLE - As many as 40 people with the City of Seattle’s Department of Transportation began cleaning and restoring the former Capitol Hill protest zone, 'CHOP' early Wednesday morning.
Some of the work consisted of removing concrete barricades, cleaning traffic signs, painting over graffiti, picking up trash. People who live and work in the are said they’re happy to see CHOP go and eager to bring some normalcy back to the community.
“I’m so relieved to see the police back here. It just feels safer. Order is back,” said Tak Kurachi, owner of U:Don Restaurant. “I’d rather see police out here than any more of what we just went through.”
City crews began cleaning weeks of trash and vandalism after the City of Seattle shut down the protest zone.
The day brought more than just relief for residents and store owners.
“I’m celebrating the fact that hopefully this has come to an end. It’s been a really, really tough, long month basically where everyone in this space felt confined and trapped,” said Loren Maxwell, who lives in the protest zone.
For weeks, people have been stuck in the middle of the CHOP outside of Seattle Police Department’s east precinct.
“Everybody thinks that reform is necessary, but you also need law and order. And what they were doing was not the right way,” said Kurachi.
“It was a really traumatic experience for a lot of us living here. I don’t expect people to understand or know it. But just be compassionate about that fact that we’ve had an experience and understanding that we’re going to work through that,” said Maxwell.
Community members have been working through several emotions after dealing with sounds of deadly gunfire, flash bangs, tear gas and encampment at Cal Anderson Park. Maxwell said those instances kept him and his neighbors up at night. Business owners said the cleanup could not have come at a more critical time.
“Deteriorating. The situation was getting worse and worse. It seemed that the people remaining there were just kind of getting seedier and seedier,” said Kurachi.
Now that city workers began clearing out what’s left of the protest zone, people who know the area best said the cleanup should have started days ago.
“Question is why it took them so long to act? And why did they leave us good, tax paying, law abiding people just as collateral damage and just ignored us?” said Kurachi. “And I think there is some accountability for some of the leaders in the city that should answer for what they did here—the damage they caused.”
The damage to the neighborhood will be repaired soon, but the spirit of the capitol hill community and its people may need more time.
“I don’t think anybody is going to walk out of here without needing to work through some of that,” said Maxwell. “I haven’t had that good cry yet, but it’s coming.”
Crews with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department also began cleaning and doing landscape maintenance. That department and SDOT said they will be saving some of the art and gardens that developed through CHOP. City officials said they’re working with artists and gardeners on how to best preserve that work.