A shooting on Capitol Hill early Saturday left one teenager dead, another person critically injured and raised new questions about the city’s capacity to provide emergency and medical services to the protest zone that has taken over the heart of the neighborhood for the last 12 days.
There is no public evidence to suggest the shooting was connected to the protest, but neither Seattle police detectives nor Seattle fire medics reached the scene after the shootings, according to city officials and videos of the aftermath.
For nearly two weeks, protesters, campers, activists and onlookers have turned the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill into a living experiment in urban policy.
What does a neighborhood look like with no armed law enforcement?
The answer, if nothing else, was peaceful. Graffiti abounded. So did camping and litter. The area sometimes felt more like a festival than a sit-in. But, after nearly two weeks of daily hostile standoffs between police and protesters, the tear gas was gone, replaced by daily lectures, guerrilla gardens and a block-long Black Lives Matter mural.
That came to an abrupt halt with Saturday’s violence at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, the area known as CHOP or CHAZ, which protesters have occupied since Seattle police abandoned its East Precinct.
Mayor Jenny Durkan did not comment on the shooting or the protest area Saturday. Neither did Police Chief Carmen Best.
Kelsey Nyland, a Durkan spokeswoman, said the mayor was in close contact with the leaders of the police and fire departments.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the future of the protest zone is up to the city and his role is to give support.
“Clearly we need to have a way to provide adequate police and fire protection everywhere in the state of Washington, including in that area,” Inslee said. “There may have been an adequate response, we don’t know that.”
In a Facebook video, capturing the scene, the person filming describes a confrontation on 10th Avenue and says he saw someone with a “12-inch” knife. People begin to flee and moments later at least seven shots can be heard, fired in under three seconds
The first 911 calls came in at 2:19 a.m., according to a timeline put together by the fire department. When fire department medics arrived at the shooting site at 10th Avenue and East Pine Street, they waited a block away for police to arrive to ensure the safety of the area, officials said.
“This is a standard procedure for any scene of violence and is also currently in place for any fire and medical emergency inside the area deemed the CHOP due to firefighter safety,” the fire department said.
A video posted to Instagram by Seattle musician Raz Simone, who’s been a frequent presence at CHOP, shows fire department medics waiting a block away, despite the filmer’s desperate pleas for them to respond to the scene of the shooting.
“I want to be sure that we have not been cleared to move into the scene,” an ambulance driver says into the radio. “That’s negative,” comes the response.
Police arrived at 2:26 a.m., according to the timeline, but staged at 12th and Cherry, at least seven blocks away. Video shot by Omari Salisbury, a citizen journalist with Converge Media, shows police arriving at the shooting scene in a phalanx, guns drawn, behind shields. They were met by angry, yelling protesters, who told them the victim had already been taken to the hospital.
Body camera video released by police Saturday shows yelling protesters, many using profanities and several coming right up to the marching officers, as an officer says into a bullhorn, “Please move out of the way so we can get to the victim! All we want to do is get to the victim!”
Protesters can be heard shouting at the officers to “put your guns down!”
At one point, a group of protesters formed a human chain to try to stop other protesters from following the retreating police.
Meanwhile, volunteer medics, who have been a fixture in the area since protests began, were treating the first gunshot victim, a 19-year-old man. A private car took him a mile south to Harborview Medical Center. He arrived at 2:43 a.m. and was pronounced dead 11 minutes later, according to the fire department timeline.
The Seattle Times is not naming the man until officials or family confirm his identity. But close friends and teachers say he graduated from high school Friday. They described him as someone who persevered despite a difficult childhood: He’d landed a job and dreamed of someday having a family. More than anything, he “wanted to be loved,” a former teacher said.
At 2:51, another flurry of 911 calls came in, reporting another victim, two blocks away, at 11th Avenue and East Pike Street.
Alex Bennett, a former nurse, said she was walking her dog with a friend when she came across the second victim on the hood of a car, bleeding from a wound in his arm.
Bennett said she used her sweatshirt as a tourniquet to try to stanch the bleeding and asked someone to call 911. When a volunteer CHOP medic came by with a first aid kit, Bennett said they examined the man and found another wound in his chest.
The man’s skin was turning clammy and his breathing was shallow, she said, and when it became clear an ambulance wasn’t coming — or wouldn’t be there fast enough — she and others loaded him into a van and raced to Harborview, arriving at 3:06 a.m., where a medical team was waiting outside. He remained in the hospital, with life-threatening injuries, Saturday evening, according to police.
Bennett said she was questioned by a police officer, who she said “told me that when they responded to the first victim they were chased out of there, which is why they didn’t come for the second one.”
Salisbury’s video later shows protesters, but no police, looking for bullet casings at the site of the second victim.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said it was premature to suggest a connection between the protests and the shooting but that the current situation — Seattle fire has generally been asking people in medical distress to walk to the edges of the protest area — was untenable.
“Fire department medics have to be able to respond, regardless of where the need is located,” Herbold said in an interview. “The bottom line is first responders have to be able to respond.” She said she was asking protesters to work with police and fire to ensure that happens.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, in a prepared statement, said there are “indications that this may have been a right-wing attack,” but offered no evidence and did not respond to follow up questions. She called for “immediate solidarity with the protest at the CHOP.”
None of the other seven members of the Seattle City Council responded to requests for comments Saturday.
Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, in a series of tweets Saturday evening, said it was concerned about white supremacist violence.
“For Black people, please consider gathering elsewhere in Black led events and spaces for the important and critical work of community gathering and protest,” the organization wrote.
Even before the shootings, angst about the protest area has been rising among some local business owners and residents.
Molly Moon Neitzel, whose namesake ice cream shop on Capitol Hill has been an attraction for protesters and sightseers alike, said the workers manning that store have expressed concerns about safety in the past few days.
“All of us are all super supportive of the [Black Lives Matter] movement, and we’ve wanted to say open, but the last few days things have felt different,” she said. She said shifting leadership within the movement has made it difficult for businesses to communicate with the protesters and she wasn’t sure when she would reopen her shop.
“I no longer feel it’s safe, and I’m worried for my team and other small businesses,” Neitzel said.
Linda Chaw, the owner of BobaBucha Cafe on 15th Avenue and East Pine Street, said she was thinking of closing up early on Saturday, after the shootings.
“It just doesn’t feel safe,” Chaw said. “[The protests] are perfectly fine. They’re just trying to voice their feelings. But it’s different than when you have somebody shooting.”
Another small business owner in the area, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said CHOP is detracting from the rest of the movement battling racism and police brutality
“I think it’s been a total distraction. It’s destroyed the neighborhood, it’s made people feel unsafe,” he said. “There’s a 50,000-person march which I feel got less coverage than CHOP did.”
On Saturday morning, three hours before Seattle police announced that one of the victims had died, Michael Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, appeared on Fox News to rebuke the mayor for allowing protesters to take over the area.
“This is a direct result of city leadership, elected officials, failing the reasonable community of Seattle to enforce the rule of law,” Solan said. “We’re in a very very troubling time in Seattle and it’s deeply concerning.”
At CHOP, Saturday morning, a crowd of demonstrators formed a large circle in the ballfields south of Cal Anderson Park for a somber and at times tense group meeting.
“We lost another Black man last night,” activist Jaiden Grayson, who has emerged as a leader over the past several days, told the crowd through a megaphone. “That is the very reason we are out here.”
She urged demonstrators to stop drinking and using drugs at the protest, citing the double threat of police sweeping out demonstrators and violence from white supremacists.
Shortly after the meeting, additional volunteer security showed up, and guards patrolled the premises wearing body armor and openly carrying handguns and long guns.
Organizers spent the day trying to collect protesters’ cell phone footage to figure out what happened. By early Saturday evening, things seemed back to the new normal: Activists were giving speeches, people were grilling and handing out free food, volunteer teams worked to calm the occasional flared tempers.
No consensus emerged on the future of the area or how the shootings might alter that.
But many agreed on at least one thing: CHOP asked for ambulances that never arrived.
“We have this unprecedented opportunity to experiment with living in a non-policed area,” said activist David Lewis, who had been onsite when the shooting happened. “But we never thought we’d live in a world without access to health care, without access to first responders.”
“We’re all still here,” he said. “Because we want to make a change.”
Staff reporters Joseph O’Sullivan and Elise Takahama contributed to this report.