[The following report is from our sister publication, The Stranger, in Seattle.—eds.]
The Seattle Police Department entered Cal Anderson Park at 7:35 a.m. on Friday morning and gave a 15-minute warning for protesters and the residents of a homeless encampment to vacate the park and remove their belongings.
Bike cops stationed on the north end of the park faced off against protesters while another troop of SPD officers came in from the south end, closer to the main encampment. After around 30 minutes of stand-offs with protesters, police cleared 11th Avenue and allowed Seattle Parks and Recreation vehicles to enter the encampment and start cleaning the area.
According to an SPD statement to the Seattle Times, SPD arrested 21 people on Friday. SPD's SWAT team also entered the vacant house protesters occupied this week and cleared it "without incident," according to a statement.
Rachel Schulkin, a spokesperson for Parks and Rec, said the department is anticipating "6 to 8 hours" of cleaning because workers must remove "makeshift barricades, secure city facilities, clear hazards like needles, and remove large debris, garbage, and trash." Schulkin also said that outreach providers connected 20 people living in the park with other shelter options.
UPDATE 1 PM: It's been a chaotic week and an even more chaotic 24 hours at the encampment. Originally, SPD was supposed to sweep the park on Wednesday. That didn't happen, and then an encampment dweller filed a temporary restraining order against the sweep in U.S. District Court, which tied up sweep proceedings even longer. Judge Richard A. Jones denied the order yesterday afternoon, allowing the city to sweep whenever they wanted.
Last night at 11:45 p.m., a bang shook the blocks around the park. The air was acrid, like burnt rubber. A car next to the park on 11th Avenue between E Olive Street and E Howell Street was on fire.
Bruno, who lives in the park, said he saw a person in an unmarked white SUV drive past and hurl a Molotov cocktail at the car. Another man living in the park, Papa Joe, ran to the park's reservoir to fill up water buckets. He was throwing water on the fire when police arrived. The city confirmed the fire was intentionally set with a thrown incendiary device last night via a statement from Schulkin.
"We're all on edge," Joe told me last night. He invited me into his camp out of the rain while the car burned and the fire department finally arrived. "Everyone out here has sleep deprivation."
Joe said he wouldn't leave during the sweep, that he was "nailing" himself in, and the police would have to drag him away.
Sure enough, police arrived early on Friday morning. There were significantly fewer protesters in the park than on Wednesday morning. After a 15-minute warning, SPD pushed in on multiple fronts. While some protesters faced off with police, others helped homeless people move their tents.
A protester who went by Bubs pulled a Toyota up to the curb and opened the hatch. A group of protesters carrying a tent started disassembling it and piling it into Bubs' car. The homeless man who owned the tent thanked them profusely.
Bubs told me they and their friends had initially shown up to try to protect the people living in the camp, but that "the police came with force and removed them." The next best thing Bubs could do was "try to get them somewhere safe" and "help them keep their stuff."
While the city stated in its original notice that crews would store belongings found in the encampment for 70 days, there was doubt among campers and protesters if that would actually happen. In the TRO hearing this week, the city's attorneys stated that crews store belongings, except for belongings that are "contaminated" or "wet." It was raining on Friday. Sure enough, reporters witnessed crews destroying items:
SPD steered protesters out and away from the park, down 11th Avenue past Joe's camp. He stayed inside frying bacon and making coffee throughout the sweep. He played "I Am" by Fia on his sound system.
Later, he played "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley and then NWA's "Fuck the Police," a classic in the park formerly known as CHOP. Last I saw, Joe was methodically taking down his camp and stowing his things in his RV.
Some scuffles broke out, SPD made arrests, and, at one point, fired rubber bullets at protesters. The police put caution tape up around the park while Parks and Rec crews started cleaning. Protesters are still outside the park.
The city said it wanted to clear the encampment now in order to re-open the park. We'll see whether that happens. In his ruling denying the TRO, Judge Jones remarked that the city's "timing was regrettable," because it's almost winter and we're in the middle of a pandemic. The CDC advised not to remove unsheltered encampments during the pandemic.