For the second time in a month, police descended Tuesday upon Cal Anderson Park in Seattle to remove a group of entrenched demonstrators and homeless people who have been sleeping in tents in the park and occupying a city rental facility to give away food and medical services.
Police blocked several entrances to the Capitol Hill park while crews from Seattle Parks and Recreation cleared the camp that’s existed, in some form or another, since June. Several campers said they were only given 5 minutes of warning.
Seattle Parks and Recreation said the department asked Seattle police to remove the protesters who occupied the rental facility, known as the shelterhouse, and have been using the park to gather for near-nightly protests.
In a statement, the Parks Department said people who entered the locked shelterhouse repeatedly refused to leave. In August, there was damage to the door of the Lincoln Gatehouse, a separate concrete building near the pool inside the park, the Parks Department said.
Firefighters also have been “unable to safely respond” to put out fires at the park, the statement said. The Seattle Fire Department received 22 calls to 911 in August about fires or requests for medical aid in the park, according to the statement. Some residents nearby reported breathing problems from fires “and the types of items burned,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, Parks crews boarded up the shelterhouse and began surrounding it with fencing. Police arrested seven people: Three on suspicion of assault, three on suspicion of trespassing, and one person who had a felony warrant. Parks said its staff will be in the area daily to remind people the park is closed.
Cal Anderson has been a center of protest since the occupation known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) near the police department’s East Precinct. A garden established during CHOP remains in the park.
In recent nights at the park, various groups offered food, water and protest gear like shields, goggles and respirators. Several volunteer medics were usually on site.
Later Tuesday evening, Seattle police said they had found a machete, a hatchet, homemade spike strips, an unexploded mortar and makeshift shields in a tent in the park.
On Twitter, the account BLM Gear Heads has advertised items like goggles and helmets available for protesters from a green tent in the park and has solicited donations of supplies. The account says it provides gear to help protect protesters from police violence. In a message Tuesday night, the group said, “We only had shields, gloves, gas masks, respirators, helmets, our personal belongings and medical supplies, water… We are not aware of any weapons and never gave out any.”
Most nights, protests known as the Every Night Direct Demonstration begin in Cal Anderson and sometimes involve property destruction. Last week, a protest that began in Cal Anderson ended at the East Precinct, where some in the crowd set a fire outside the precinct, behind a fence around the building. Federal prosecutors say some in the crowd also set a second fire, while others attempted to barricade a door of the precinct closed using cement and a metal rod.
A similar sweep happened two weeks ago at Cal Anderson, but after police left, campers returned. According to the Parks department, there were 40 to 50 tents on Aug. 17, but a resident living across the street said it was more like two or three dozen.
“I haven’t heard of any violence here,” the resident, who gave the name Nick L., said as he watched demonstrators shout at a wall of police. He supports the camp; he said right before the last sweep, he’d donated two grocery bags of food to the camp, and during the sweep he watched police throw them away.
On Tuesday, an activist who has volunteered to cook meals in the shelterhouse said crews dumped food and equipment, including a microwave, from the building into a garbage truck.
Nick said his neighbors support this camp more than what existed here during CHOP: “CHOP was more reckless.”
Karim Coulibaly, a homeless man who’s been living in the park off and on all summer, estimates about half the campers are homeless, and said he and others found support here.
“Each and every day there wasn’t a cop here it increased in safety,” Coulibaly said.
On Tuesday morning, Coulibaly didn’t have time to grab most of his things; he grabbed one of the big tents and dragged it out into the street, but he said his personal tent was still behind the police line. He said once police leave, he’ll be heading back in.
Parks said in its statement that outreach workers from the city’s human services department referred 13 people to shelter in July and most of August. The city said its outreach workers were on site today offering people shelter after the clearing; no one The Seattle Times spoke to had received an offer of shelter.
As Parks Department crews cleared the park, protesters waited outside and said they planned to return once police left.
“It’s public property. … We’re taking care of people,” said one protester who has been organizing in the area in recent weeks and who declined to provide a name. “We’re doing stuff the city refuses to do for people.”
Protesters said they had not been able to grab all of their food and supplies before the clearing, including shields, which one person said “keep us safe.”
Among the tents inside the park was the green tent that has been offering protesters supplies like goggles, gloves, umbrellas, respirators and helmets. Police officers peered into the tent and loaded a stack of wooden and plastic shields, commonly used by protesters here and in Portland, into a white van. Officers inspected what appeared to be a generator, as well as a nearby supply table with food and clothing.
The city cited the damage to the East Precinct in a statement about clearing in the park.
“Organizers of some groups have recently been using Cal Anderson Park to distribute supplies like shields,” the statement said. “Following the damage to the precinct, many participants were seen taking refuge within the park.”
Ryan Keller, a homeless man who isn’t part of the protest, has been camping in the park the last three weeks; he said this morning an officer grabbed his arm as he was entering the park, and told him to leave before he could get all of his things. Keller doesn’t intend to come back; he said he’ll move to Volunteer Park.
“It’s now like a battle, it’s now like a joke of who has the last laugh,” Keller said.