SEATTLE - Twenty-three days after protestors first occupied several city blocks in the heart of Capitol Hill, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order to clear the space, mobilizing the police department to remove demonstrators, arresting more than 30 in the process.
The decision came two days after the second murder occurred around the occupied protest, known as 'CHOP'.
“Our job is to support peaceful demonstrations but what has happened here on these streets over the last few weeks is lawless and it’s brutal and bottom line, it is simply unacceptable,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said after officers cleared the zone.
“The city leadership sent a message that they not just tolerated this, they encouraged it, even celebrated it in some cases,” said State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County.
On Wednesday, O’Ban said police never should have abandoned the precinct and allowed the occupation in the first place, and introduced legislation that would financially penalize cities if it happens again.
“I’ve been deeply embarrassed,” he said. “We’ve been the laughing stock of the nation and international community. It’s intolerable and it cannot happen again.”
But on the ground, protestors pushed out of the zone are standing their ground right outside the police tape, at one time blocking the intersection of Broadway and East Pine Street and disrupting traffic.
Organizers said they’re committed to keeping up the pressure.
“It’s not a building that’s going to make us get what we want, it’s the people,” CHOP organizer Malcolm H. said. “The people have their ways of making things happen and when we come together as a collective voice, people hear us.”
As for what’s next, Malcolm said they would definitely march and consider occupying a different space.
“Occupying the space around the East Precinct was never the goal of putting on that pressure, and that pressure does not end when they move back into the building,” said Tarika Powell, an organizer for Black Collective Voice, a group born out of the CHOP movement.
She said while the pressure by organizers will not end, she believes what will end is the city’s concern over violence in Black communities, seen during two weeks of shootings in and around CHOP.
“Those young men are going to migrate back to South Seattle and south King County where no one cares and no one speaks on what’s happening there,” she said.
“They’re only speaking on it now because it’s happening in a wealthy white area of Seattle and can be used as political theater against CHOP.”
Powell said protestors’ demands to defund police and fund Black communities will help interrupt that violence. It may be the final curtain on the East Precinct occupation, but it’s not over for the people who spent weeks occupying the space.
Asked whether the city would allow protestors to occupy a separate space, Durkan and Best said the response will depend on the circumstance.
“We will be guided by each situation as it presents itself,” Durkan said. “We will support the right of free speech but we will not support the right of people who are creating a situation like we had on Capitol Hill that ended up in violence and disorder in the way that it did.”
CHOP started relatively peaceful and the mayor had even characterized it as having potential to be the ‘summer of love.’ Less than two weeks into the occupation, though, a 19-year-old was murdered right outside the zone. Nine days later, a 16-year-old was killed and a 14-year-old was hospitalized from gunshot wounds.
On Wednesday, Durkan said she deeply regrets the loss of life and hopes to meet with the families of the victims soon.