Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is right to move toward reopening the police department’s East Precinct and winding down the Capitol Hill protest zone.
That decision should have come sooner than Monday, however.
That’s not because Seattle should stop protesting or weaken its resolve to confront racism and police brutality — those things must continue.
The decision is overdue because despite best intentions, CHOP — the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Area, formerly known as CHAZ — is now causing more harm than good.
Disorder at CHOP is hurting not only the local community but the national movement by fueling a narrative that protests and reform will lead to danger and chaos.
Seattle must continue accommodating peaceful protests and supporting police-reform momentum. That could include providing a place for dialogue and community-building occurring at CHOP to continue, as Durkan is considering. The city also needs to provide shelter and services to homeless people now camping in the zone.
But city leaders cannot allow any small group of people to take shared public spaces, block streets indefinitely and impede emergency services from providing help to anyone in need.
It should not have taken deadly violence to know this standoff was untenable.
Yet there were shootings in and around CHOP on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, including one that killed a Black teen the day after his high-school graduation.
As Horace Lorenzo Anderson, 19, was dying and another victim bleeding Saturday, a threatening mob delayed the emergency response, then forced police to leave the scene. He was taken to the hospital by private vehicle.
“The people have a right to protest — that’s what this is about — but there’s a difference between protesting and occupying,” said the Rev. Harriett Walden, a longtime Black leader in Seattle’s police-accountability movement and co-chair of the Community Police Commission.
“At this moment right now, this is white privilege,” she said of CHOP, “and how are you going to get up there and talk to these young people?”
Seattle closed the precinct June 8 to avoid further clashes with protesters at barricades protecting the facility.
Since then, response times are three times longer for the surrounding area, according to Police Chief Carmen Best.
People needing help within and adjacent to CHOP, because they were being victimized or experiencing a crisis, have been denied police assistance they sought.
Walden notes the East Precinct was first established at the behest of Sam Smith, Seattle’s first Black City Council member, because Central District residents were receiving worse service than other areas, with police slower to respond to calls for help. It serves an area extending south to Interstate 90, north to Highway 520 and east of Interstate 5.
Closing the precinct resulted in inequitable and potentially unconstitutional policing, she said.
“We’re here because of the police brutality and the killings, but the police do a lot more than that,” such as responding to domestic-violence calls, Walden said.
“Accountability is for everybody, and now we need some accountability for the other residents in Capitol Hill and other (area) residents,” she added. “They need to be able to get the services that are necessary.”
The perspective of Walden and other civil-rights leaders in the community is invaluable. They can play an important role in resolving the CHOP dilemma.
Walden said that will involve city leadership acknowledging mistakes. Also, they cannot let hatred — from the far right or far left — keep dividing us.
“We’ve had enough of continuous conflict,” she said, summing the situation up well. “How do we build a new world that works for everyone?”