Organizers at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, say they want to refocus the political energies of the three-week-old occupation around the abandoned East Precinct police station and shift away from Cal Anderson Park.
On Sunday, several organizers in the six-block occupied zone said they were urging demonstrators still staying in the sprawling tent encampment at Cal Anderson Park to move to the street outside the East Precinct, at East Pine Street and 12th Avenue, where much of the protest’s leadership is located.
Some organizers suggested the park encampment was becoming hard to manage and was hurting efforts to keep political pressure on the city for police reform.
“Basically, it’s to bring the attention and the focus back onto why we’re here, occupy protesters, which is to get our demands met,” said organizer Angelica C as she stood outside the boarded-up precinct. “And the only way we can do that is to occupy this precinct right here.”
The shift in strategy comes after several days of mixed signals from city officials.
On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan met with organizers after CHOP members blocked city workers from removing some of the barricades. According to a protester who attended the meeting, Durkan said she planned to clear most remaining barriers and items from the CHOP area Sunday morning. But by 3 p.m. Sunday, no such actions had taken place.
But Sunday morning, Seattle police Chief Carmen Best appeared to suggest some reopening of the area is in the works.
“This is not a line in the sand, but it’s absolutely necessary for public safety that we are able to respond from that area,” Best told CNN’s Ana Cabrera. “So we want to do as much as we can to work with the folks who are left, but we recognize that at some point there is going to be a reckoning for how we can get this resolved.”
Demonstrators insisted they would resist any attempt to reopen the East Precinct. Several said they were prepared to form a human chain around the building, which some organizers see as a key source of political leverage over the city.
At the same time, some organizers have come to see Cal Anderson as a political liability. They have struggled to maintain security in the park encampment, which has drawn a relatively large population of people without housing, suffered periodic violence, and angered some neighbors and local businesses.
“It makes us have to worry about extra stuff going on down there that doesn’t necessarily pertain to why CHOP’s here,” said Rooks, who identified himself as an organizer.
By midafternoon Sunday, the area around the precinct was busy with activity. On 12th Avenue, protest members lined up for barbecue cooked by Harry “Rick” Hearns, who said he helps provide security for CHOP. Hearns, wearing two holstered pistols as he cooked, agreed the Cal Anderson encampment had become a distraction. “They need to clean out that whole park,” he said.
At Cal Anderson, there was little sign of an imminent exodus. Few of the scores of tents had been struck. Dozens of people gathered in casual groups or stood in line for food at Riot Kitchen, as the impromptu meal facility is called. The gardens protesters planted in the early days of the occupation seemed to be flourishing, with new raised beds added.
In one tent, a 23-year-old Edmonds resident named Duncan acknowledged the challenges organizers faced by being “constantly dragged over here” to deal with security, and said he would probably “head over” to the precinct.
But it wasn’t immediately apparent how many others would follow, given that many campers appear to have come less for the protest than for the offer of regular meals and a place to pitch a tent.
At Friday’s meeting with Durkan, organizers said the mayor discussed ways to help those in need of housing and other services. But organizers say they have been told local governments don’t have the capacity to house the people currently at the park.
“A lot of people here are either too old or the wrong gender to get access at the shelters, so leaving here is just going to mean they’re going to displace them to somewhere else,” said Marcus Henderson, 31, of Columbia City, who has been managing the gardening efforts at Cal Anderson.
Rather than simply sweep the park, Henderson said, Seattle officials need to “come up with a true solution to homelessness because it’s something that the city’s been dodging for a long time.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this report.