Protesters appear to have thwarted, at least until Sunday, the city’s plans to remove concrete barriers that defined the edges of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, for several weeks.
Seattle Department of Transportation crews arrived Friday morning with trucks and machinery to remove barriers at 12th Avenue and Pike Street. But at least one protester lay down in the street in front of a piece of equipment, and after a few hours, city workers backed away.
Then in a two-hour meeting with a group of protesters Friday afternoon at First African Methodist Episcopal Church on 14th Avenue, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she intends to clear most remaining barriers and items Sunday morning from the CHOP area, said citizen journalist Omari Salisbury with Converge Media. Salisbury was the only journalist allowed to attend the session. He then briefed news reporters outside.
It’s unclear how the protest representatives who attended the meeting were chosen; a group gathered in front of the church beforehand amid confusion about who could go into the meeting.
Durkan did not speak to anyone as she was leaving the meeting.
Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, confirmed that “the mayor suggested she wants to move forward soon peacefully on the barriers, and suggested Sunday for some potential changes.”
Only those barricades directly in front of the vacant Seattle Police Department East Precinct would remain by Sunday, so those now camping there could remain, Salisbury said he was told. The city didn’t give a timeline for evicting those people or returning police to the station, on 12th Avenue.
Durkan began the meeting with protesters around 3 p.m. Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and Andrè Taylor, an activist against police violence whose brother was killed by Seattle police in 2016, were also in the meeting.
Earlier in the afternoon, parks department workers moved through Bobby Morris Playfield and Cal Anderson Park, picking up trash and asking people in tents if they had anything to discard. Within 10 minutes, a pickup truck’s bed was filled with trash bags.
People in the encampment said they were anxious over rumors that the city would conduct a sweep of the camp, breaking it up. There’s also been a nightly deployment of fireworks. One resident, a man named Owl Medicine, said he believed the city is keeping people sleep-deprived to keep them on edge.
“No one knows what’s happening,” he said. “There’s no communication to CHOP as a unit.” He said Durkan should give the camp’s residents a warning before dismantling it, “because that’s the only way there can be peace and safety.”
Scoggins, the fire chief, walked through the protest zone Friday afternoon and met with demonstrators, who questioned him about emergency responses. One man said that one day, he was trying to help a woman in the area who was in mental distress, but medics wouldn’t come to the location, which was past the zone’s perimeter, to help. He asked the fire chief to explain why.
“I can’t explain that,” Scoggins said.
He added that Seattle police, and not the Fire Department, would have been called to respond to such an emergency.
The fate of unhoused people in the park was a major question in the mayor’s meeting, Salisbury said. Their advocates, in particular a man named Marcus who has been tending a garden there, insisted that the city assure housing and mental health services for them, Salisbury said. Talks also include locations where police and firefighters would meet people to respond to emergencies at CHOP, he said.
Formas also said there would be continued urging for people to leave CHOP peacefully, and that Durkan was also interested in discussing changes to the park, such as a community garden and art. Salisbury said the meeting included some discussion of keeping protest-related art or commemoration in the park.
Transportation workers Friday morning were met with “significant resistance by protesters, who grew increasingly agitated and aggressive toward city workers from Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Seattle Public Utilities,” a city spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Safety is the City’s first priority, and planning is ongoing for how to safely transition the Capitol Hill area.”
Rick Hearns, who has been in the protest zone for days, said that it didn’t matter if the barricades were removed. He said he is more concerned about the East Precinct, and added that if anyone came to remove that area or take back the precinct, the protesters planned to link arms, without weapons.
The Mayor’s Office said the Seattle Police Department had no plans to return to the East Precinct on Friday.
By 10:30 a.m., city equipment had been moved down 12th Avenue, away from the CHOP perimeter. Protesters who have been staying in tents in front of the East Precinct were eating breakfast and discussing next steps.
Salisbury said the city has been negotiating with protesters over logistics such as portable toilets and trash pickup.
By midday Friday, East Pine Street near 12th Avenue was calm. The hot dog stand was open for business and a man was selling shirts with CHOP on them for $10.
Water faucets within CHOP set up by Seattle Public Utilities had either been turned off by Friday morning or were not working.
Salisbury said the mayor didn’t present the Sunday clear-out plan as a negotiation at the meeting, but rather explained how things were going to unfold.
He also mentioned a list of demands from a protester group, explaining to out-of-state news media that some of the demands are already state or city law — for instance, that police patrol cars have cameras, and more recently that officers activate their body cameras during street protests.
Another demand was to revise the statute defining when use-of-force is justifiable, which is a state statute, not city.
Salisbury also mentioned the open letter June 22 by Police Chief Carmen Best, “about how policing can be reimagined in the city and yes, they are looking for feedback from the public about what policing could be.”
CHOP activists, as well as tens of thousands of people in Seattle street marches, have marched against racist law enforcement, with calls to defund, change, or demilitarize policing, since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd on May 25. Protesters chanted names of people locally and nationally killed by police, and rallied in memory of Charleena Lyles, fatally shot in her Sand Point-area apartment by officers in 2017.
Seattle City Council members are looking at de-funding options of up to 50%, envisioning they could reinvest millions into human services. To date, Durkan has proposed slashing $20 million off the current $409 million yearly police budget.
Last year, the city launched a pilot project downtown called Health One consisting of two firefighters, a case worker and social worker to aid people during non-emergency overdoses or mental crises — a type of call that politicians and experts increasingly argue should no longer be handled by police.
Friday was a deadline for the city to document its plan to address CHOP in response to a class-action lawsuit filed this week by a group of Capitol Hill residents and businesses who say they’ve faced “extensive harm” as a result of the protest.
According to the letter from the group, the city had until the end of Friday to respond before the group files for injunctive relief.
The Mayor’s Office said in the emailed statement that city staff is offering social services and a “resource hub” to people sleeping in Cal Anderson and encouraging them to leave.