“Entering Cop-Free Zone. Long live CHAZ,” the faded pink sidewalk chalk still proclaimed on East Pine Street at 13th Avenue on Wednesday evening. A group of at least 50 protesters stood at Pine and Broadway, distributing pizza, sometimes shouting at the officers on the other side of the police tape.
But the tents, the graffitied barricades, and the co-op shops that have marked the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) — or the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, aka CHAZ, as it was named at the start of the occupation — were gone. After about 3 1/2 weeks, after the protest zone became the subject of heated national debate and the scene of violence and tragedy, Seattle police and other agencies swept in early Wednesday with heavily equipped officers and tactical vehicles, clearing the area with threats to arrest anyone who stayed behind.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order at 9:28 p.m. Tuesday, declaring that gathering in the area is unlawful assembly, requiring immediate action from city agencies.
Police moved in around 5 a.m., issuing dispersal orders and arresting at least 44 people throughout the day, the department reported Wednesday evening. At least 100 police officers equipped with body armor, batons, helmets and weapons pushed forward as protesters slowly retreated, some yelling, “We’ll be back.”
Police and protesters continued to clash into the night around East Pine Street and Broadway, with 25 more people arrested.
Protesters occupied several blocks around Cal Anderson Park and the Police Department’s East Precinct in a 24/7 demonstration-slash-encampment that sprang up during the wave of national protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Seattle police left the precinct in early June after standoffs and clashes with protesters.
The area had remained relatively peaceful until the weekend of June 20, when the first of four shootings near CHOP in the span of about nine days killed 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson and injured another man. After another shooting Monday morning killed 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. and injured a 14-year-old boy, Seattle police Chief Carmen Best said “enough is enough.”
“Two African American men are dead, at a place where they claim to be working for Black Lives Matter,” she said Monday.
In a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Durkan did not directly answer a question about whether she bore any responsibility for the deaths, instead saying that it is “deeply regretful what happened to the two people who were killed as well as the two people in the hospital.”
“I want to make sure that I can meet with those parents, express my condolences and also say that I think that there’s many ways in which the city of Seattle could be better,” Durkan said. “We don’t know yet enough about those shootings to determine exactly who did it, but it should never happen in the city of Seattle.”
Durkan has not committed to a central demand of protesters at CHOP and elsewhere: defunding the Seattle Police Department by 50% or more. Durkan said, however, she would “continue to refocus our energy on the hard but critical work to answer the voices demonstrating, demanding change.”
The mayor has proposed a 5% cut to police funding and said Best was undertaking a deep review of the police budget to determine what elements of it could be shifted to other departments.
Early Wednesday morning, CHOP volunteer security guards moved through the camp, helping people quickly pack and remove their things before a slowly oncoming line of police arrived, said demonstrator Janene Karnista Hampton, a member of the Syilx People who goes by Karnista.
Karnista and her companion, Dr. Whitefeather, who is Apache and Cheyenne, spent the early morning blessing both police and protesters, burning sage and praying for everyone to get out of the area without violence.
“Everyone has done a good job here because everyone is out safe,” she said. “But it will come back. This is not going away. We’re still fighting for justice.”
Police reported people were overturning portable toilets as officers swept the area and tore down tents.
“This order, and our police response, comes after weeks of violence in and around the Capitol Hill Occupied Protests Zone, including four shootings, resulting in multiple injuries and the deaths of two teenagers,” Best said in a statement. She was watching Wednesday morning from a staging area at the fire station on 13th Avenue and East Pine Street.
The booking roster at the King County Jail indicated that most of the people arrested were booked on suspicion of obstruction, assault or — most commonly — failure to disperse. Police used pepper spray or a “less lethal 40 mm sponge” in two of the arrests, according to the department.
Durkan said that while the arrests were “appropriate,” charges shouldn’t be filed against anyone arrested solely for misdemeanors like failure to disperse.
As police cleared out protesters, one man with a megaphone — Harry “Rick” Hearns, who normally works as a private security guard and has been a regular at CHOP — exhorted everyone to stay calm and “don’t mess this up for Black Lives Matter!”
“We’ve made history here! You’re doing great!” Hearns shouted. “Everybody out. We’ll get another place. Don’t taunt the officers. Show them that the Black race is peaceful. The whole world can see us!”
Po Leapai, who stood with a small group of protesters at Broadway and Pine, said he’s been coming to CHOP every day for the last several weeks. Leapai says his cousin, Iosia Faletogo, had been shot in the back of the head by a Seattle police officer on New Year’s Eve, 2018-19.
“The Black community supported us after my cousin got killed, and that’s another reason I’m out here,” said Leapai, who grew up in Yesler Terrace, and was the first in his Samoan family to be born in the U.S. “Protest is the poor man’s legal representation.“
Demonstrator David Lewis, who has been an organizer at CHOP, said the next step was to regroup and reorganize.
“We are putting the O back in CHOP: organize,” he said. “It was never about the location; it was about the movement.”
Later in the afternoon, Durkan urged her constituents to focus not on CHOP, but on the bigger picture.
“If all we remember from the last few weeks is what happened in those few blocks on Capitol Hill, we’ve missed the point,” Durkan said. “We’ve missed the point entirely. The murder of Mr. [George] Floyd ignited a movement across the globe, but that movement was because of years and centuries of systemic racism that resonated in the bones of so many people.”
The sweep affected many people who were living homeless in the area: One protester who has been helping out at the camp at Cal Anderson for several weeks estimated as many as 50 unhoused people have been staying at the park, or nearby in cars or other temporary arrangements.
He said CHOP community members had been actively helping many of the homeless occupants stay fed and safe and often served as informal social workers. He said the demonstrators would continue to assist people without homes if they were swept from the park by the city.
“The community is definitely stepping up to help them as much as possible,” he said.
Jarrod “Eek” Hynes, who was living in Cal Anderson long before CHOP began, agreed that, at first, things were better for homeless people living in the CHOP.
“But then in the long run it kind of screwed me even more because all these people have nice cushy homes to go back to and I still have to stay in the park,” Hynes said. For the time being, Hynes is displaced, along with all of his belongings.
A man named Jay, who is homeless and stayed at the encampment in Cal Anderson Park for two weeks, said he was sorry to leave.
“Other places are sketchy, but I felt safe here,” he said. “This place was based on respect. I don’t know where I’m going to go.”
Several people living homeless began packing up their things in the days and weeks before the police came, citing the gun violence as reason to find somewhere else. Aaron “Relentless” Hill told The Seattle Times on Tuesday that the CHOP, at first, was great.
“It just flipped and turned into a nightmare,” Hill said. “The atmosphere, the mood, everything.”
Hill took a referral from the city’s Navigation Team to a shelter, but was still out on the street Wednesday evening: He said he couldn’t get into the shelter because he had too many belongings. As of Tuesday, the city had made 30 referrals to shelter for people living in CHOP and issued 17 hotel vouchers, according to Human Services Department director Jason Johnson.
The occupation drew criticism from some Capitol Hill neighbors and business owners, who said they were left dealing with property damage, threats from protesters, a loss of business and other disruptions.
Faizel Khan, who owns Cafe Argento as well as some other commercial real estate at 12th Avenue and East Olive Street, said Wednesday that CHOP quickly got out of hand and “has not been about Black lives since day two.”
Khan has joined other business owners in suing the city over its handling of CHOP. Though he’s faced vandalism and a drop in business, Khan refused to close the cafe.
“Once you board up, they own you,” he said. “I’m so glad this is over.”
Neighbor Amy Hagopian, however, said she is sorry to see the experiment at CHOP end.
“I’ve been going to the evening meetings watching them make decisions and practice democracy,” she said.
Sophia Lee, who has lived for four years on 12th Avenue, half a block south of CHOP, said she had mixed feelings about the 24/7 protest.
“I support the message, but I feel like how the city reacted was not great and it has received a lot of negative press nationwide,” Lee said, adding that the city shouldn’t blame recent violence on the demonstrators.
Best said she supports peaceful demonstrations and the Black Lives Matter movement but that she and the department couldn’t allow CHOP to continue.
“Our job is to protect and serve the community,” she said during a briefing early Wednesday. “Our job is to support peaceful demonstrations, but what has happened here on these streets over the last two weeks is lawless, and it’s brutal, and bottom line, it is simply unacceptable.”
Best said she will do the work of “re-envisioning public safety” in Seattle with community groups, the Community Police Commission, the department’s Office of Police Accountability and the city’s Office of Inspector General.
The SPD’s early morning operation was assisted by the Bellevue Police Department and local FBI, Best said.
Meanwhile, the White House weighed in, with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announcing: “I am pleased to inform everyone that Seattle has been liberated… Anarchy is anti-American, law and order is essential, peace in our streets will be secured.”
During a City Council meeting Wednesday, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has been active in the protests, condemned the “attacks by Durkan and Seattle police” against the CHOP, suggesting the mayor chose a day when the council was scheduled to be busy with business-tax deliberations to clear the zone.
“I’m not surprised by what the establishment and Mayor Durkan ever do,” she said. “But I am aghast they would do this.”
Sawant congratulated “the CHOP community and the movement,” and she said activists must now regroup in response to what she described as attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Occupation is a very effective tactic as part of movement building and we are facing major repression, so we need to come together as a movement to figure out what we’re going to do to move forward and win our demands,” Sawant said.
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