[The following is an article originally published by our sister journalists at The Stranger in Seattle.—eds]
At the direction of Mayor Jenny Durkan, "hundreds" of cops cleared the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area (AKA "CHOP") starting around 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The officers, many of whom wore "mourning bands" but not state-mandated face coverings, booted homeless people from their tents in Cal Anderson Park and arrested over three dozen people.
Malcolm, who has led several protests in the last few weeks and who said he was near the East Precinct when the cops pushed through, called the police action "messed up."
"They were throwing people out of their tents, pulling them out of their tents, slashing [the tents], throwing the tents everywhere...people have their life savings in those tents," he said.
Throughout the morning, city crews dumped tents into garbage trucks, washed graffiti off buildings, and dismantled (and promised to preserve) plywood art wrapped around cement barricades, bringing an end to the protest camps that had clustered around the precinct since the Seattle Police Department abandoned it on June 8. Protesters worked to protect the building from destruction throughout June, responding quickly to an arson attempt, a window-smashing, and an attempted occupation as SPD limited their response to emergencies within the area.
In a statement, Attorney General Bill Barr commended Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best for "restoring the rule of law in Seattle."
As the city tore up the CHOP, small groups of protesters lined up at several intersections and chanted "Every day! Every day!" as they did when police kettled protesters outside the precinct for ten days at the beginning of the month. Some protesters handed out water, food, snacks, and face masks.
At around 1:00 p.m., David Lewis and Malcolm gathered with other protesters at a police line on Broadway and Pine and reiterated the argument that CHOP was not a place but an idea. Malcolm said he plans to carry on that idea by leading protests from that intersection starting at 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and at noon on weekends.
Durkan's executive order, which was issued at 9:28 p.m. on Tuesday and remains in effect for 10 days, closed the park and directed all people in the park and in the public rights of way to "leave the closed area immediately." It also authorized SPD to "maintain a reasonable security buffer around the East Precinct and control entry into those areas in order to limit any obstruction to access."
Though I wasn't limiting any obstruction to access, SPD Sergeant S. Stevens stopped me from walking to The Stranger's offices on 11th and Pine this morning. Police officers also warned Omari Salibury of Converge Media to stop filming from the sidewalk outside their studio, and gave him a "final warning" later in the afternoon. SPD said they "were not limiting [Converge Media's] ability to broadcast. This was a misunderstanding in the midst of a very active and fluid scene."
Business owners and residents in the area have filed two lawsuits against the city for allowing the CHOP. Capitol Hill resident Nikita Shea, who was walking her two dogs as cops cleared the area, said she was glad to see CHOP go. “It doesn’t look very good, and it smells. I’m all for the movement, but once the CHOP stuff started happening, it lost meaning,” she said.
Gun violence rocked the CHOP over the last two weeks. On Monday 16-year-old Antonio Mays, Jr. was shot and killed in an early morning incident near a barricade on 12th Ave, and a 14-year-old was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The weekend before, DeJuan Young was sent to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds, a 17-year-old was sent to the hospital with a gunshot wound, and 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson was killed.
At an afternoon press conference, the Mayor said she wanted to meet with the families of the gun victims to express her condolences. When a reporter asked her if she bore any responsibility for the deaths of two people killed near the CHOP, she said "I think it's deeply regretful what happened to the two people who were killed and the two people in the hospital."
Durkan said SPD has been planning the sweep for "the last week," and congratulated the department for its execution. She added that she personally believes charges shouldn't be filed against those arrested this morning for "misdemeanor obstruction, failure to disperse, or trespassing," though the decision is ultimately up to City Attorney Pete Holmes. Two weeks ago Holmes said he would dismiss or divert some misdemeanor cases "involving peaceful protesters," failing to meet one of CHOP's core demands of freeing all protesters.
Durkan said city departments are thinking about installing "a new garden, a speaker's corner, or new art" in the area, and she floated the idea of creating "a community room in the East Precinct" where the wistful act of "reimagining" policing can occur in a "shared space."
Durkan selected Rev. Harriet Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, to lead some of these conversations and to give input on "resources in the budget."
The Mayor also ran down a list of minor concessions the city has made to protesters, including a "commitment" of $100 million to programs "that support BIPOC communities" and an assurance that Chief Best is "looking at" the budget. None of these concessions fully meet CHOP demands to free all protesters and defund the police by at least 50% with the aim of investing the money in Black communities.
For her part, Best said she was "just stunned by the amount of graffiti, garbage, and property destruction" she witnessed on her walkthrough of the area this morning, and said officers were now inside "surveying the damage" to the precinct. Best later added that she would "follow up" on claims that officers covered their badge numbers with mourning bands during the sweep this morning in defiance of Best's order against the practice.
Seattle Human Services Department interim director Jason Johnson said the city's navigation team wasn't involved in the sweeps today, but had been "on the ground" since last Tuesday, and had made 30 referrals to shelter, connected 26 people to "other service providers," and diverted 17 people into hotels.
Superintendent of the Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation Jesus Aguirre said he "worked with garden organizers" to breakdown the garden and store plants in a greenhouse. The department will carry out landscape maintenance, irrigation repair, and work on any issues with the reservoir. Aguirre promised to "continue to talk with" Marcus Henderson, the CHOP gardener, on "establishing a permanent presence there" for some plants.
Last week, after hearing that cops planned to sweep the zone and remove the barriers, leaders of mutual aid groups within the CHOP told me they plan to continue the work that started there. Slate, who helped run the barrier sentinels, said they wanted to provide private security for events such as Trans Pride. The leaders of the art co-op within CHOP said they planned to turn the operation into a pop-up for kids across the city.